US bans PIA flights over safety concerns

- A Monitor Desk Report 12 Jul, 2020 | 509 Views|-+
Dhaka: US Department of Transportation on July 9 has revoked authorisation for Pakistan International Airlines to operate flights to and from the country over concerns of its pilots' dubious licences, a PIA spokesman said.

Earlier this year, the flag carrier had been authorised to operate 12 direct flights to and from the United States to allow repatriation of Pakistani citizens stranded in that country due to the coronavirus pandemic.

However, on July 9, the US authorities revoked that authorisation, with seven flights operated and five still pending, PIA spokesman Abdullah Khan said.

According to an internal PIA email, the US DoT identified "recent events identified by the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority that are of serious concern to aviation safety, specifically matters pertaining to the proper certification of certain Pakistani pilots" as the reason for the revocation.

On June 25, Ghulam Sarwar Khan, Aviation Minister of Pakistan said authorities had found 262 Pakistani pilots - almost a third of all licensed pilots in the country - had obtained their licences fraudulently.

Later, the Pakistani national carrier suspended 150 pilots after questions over the authenticity of their licences emerged.

The move followed an initial investigation which found human error primarily responsible for a PIA plane crash that killed 98 people in southern Pakistan in May.

This led to the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) suspending PIA's third country operator authorisation to fly to European destinations days later.

Furthermore, several national civil aviation authorities, including those in Vietnam, Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates have written to the Pakistani Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) to verify the licences of pilots serving in those countries.

EASA has also written to European countries' civil aviation authorities asking them to suspend Pakistani pilots pending further verification of their credentials.

The aviation ministry's allegations appear to centre around discrepancies in written examination dates, flagging pilots who were logged to have taken the exams on the same days as having flown flights, or on public holidays.

Earlier this week, the PCAA suspended the licences of 34 pilots over the issue. Seventeen previous suspensions of this kind, issued in January 2019, have been challenged in court, with hearings continuing.

PIA, once a pioneering airline in international commercial aviation, discontinued flying to US destinations in 2017, citing financial considerations due to being forced by US security regulations to stop at European destinations on the way.

The seven repatriation flights were the first time a Pakistani airline has ever flown direct flights to and from the US, spokesman Abdullah Khan said, adding the airline had been hoping to secure permanent authorisation after the coronavirus pandemic.

Pakistani authorities initiated the process of applying for that authorisation from the US Transportation Safety Administration last year, with US inspectors conducting audits at Pakistani airports in July 2019.

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