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ISLAMABAD: Federal Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan informed the Senate on Friday that Pakistan will file an appeal, by August 30 this year, for resumption of flights in Europe in the backdrop of suspension of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight operations by European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) citing safety concerns.

Responding to a calling attention notice jointly moved by Raza Rabbani from Pakistan People's Party (PPP), Javed Abbasi from Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) and Mir Kabeer Shahi from National Party (NP) during Senate session presided over by Deputy Chairman Saleem Mandviwalla, the minister said Aviation Division was taking steps to address the concerns of EASA.

"The suspension of flight operations is not a new phenomenon," he said. It started in the year 2007 when EASA suspended the flight operations of PIA's B 747 and Airbus A 320 due to safety concerns. This continued in 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017 and EASA's last observations highlighting safety concerns came in 2019, the minister said, adding that EASA raised six observations in 2019 out of which five observations were addressed while the last observation regarding flight safety was being addressed.

The minister denied that his speech (which was critical of PIA and its pilots) was the reason behind the suspension of EASA operations, but admitted that the EASA's last of the six observations referred to the said speech. "EASA's last observation made a reference to my speech. But the reason behind the suspension of PIA flight operations in Europe by EASA was not my speech or plane crash in Karachi. Had it been the reason, the PIA operations would not have been suspended by EASA in previous years-from 2007 and so on."

The EASA deadline to address its six observations was June 30, 2020 but the PIA plane crash in Karachi in May this year proved to be a great setback for Pakistan's efforts to address EASA's last observation regarding safety, the minister said.

On the issue of fake degrees/licence holders in PIA, the minister said the Supreme Court took suo moto notice into alleged fake degree holders in PIA in 2018. After through verification, 658 employees in PIA were sacked on charges of fake degrees, he said, adding the sacked employed filed their petitions against their termination but all petitions were dismissed by the Apex Court.

He said after proper inquiry, licenses of 262 pilots were found suspected or dubious and 28 licenses were cancelled. Five officials of the licensing authority (Civil Aviation Authority) who were found involved in issuing dubious licenses to pilots were suspended, he said.

Khan reiterated that the matter of "dubious licenses would be brought to the logical end, criminal cases will be lodged against those who were found guilty, and action would continue till the last culprit is traced and taken to task."

The Minister for Aviation denied that the government had any plans to privatize PIA saying the national airliner would be restructured. He also denied that the government had any plan to lay off pilots from PIA and induct pilots from Shaheen Airlines or those retired from Pakistan Air Force (PAF).

About the appointment of Chief Executive Officer PIA, the minister said that matter was pending before the Supreme Court. On another calling attention notice moved by PPP's Parliamentary leader in Senate Sherry Rehman and Mushtaq Ahmed from Jamat-e-Islami (JI) regarding 10 percent increase in the prices of medicines by the federal government, the senators expressed serious concern over this move. Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan agreed that the prices of medicines should be kept at affordable prices to keep them within the reach of common man. He said the government was working on resolving the situation.

To a question he said no polio case had been reported in the country in the months of June and July that year. Speaking on the floor of the House, Federal Minister for Communications Murad Saeed said the former rulers recklessly used the national exchequer in their foreign trips. Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif made the most visits to London whilst the PPP leaders to the UAE (United Arab Emirates), he said. The present government had been pursuing an austerity drive ever since it came to power, Saeed added.

Meawnhile, the Senate unanimously adopted a resolution moved by Mushahid Hussain Sayed from PML-N to pay homage to Indian Occupied Kahsmiris (IOK's) leader Assya Andrabi and condemn her detention.

"The Senate of Pakistan taking note of the plight of the brave political prisoner of Indian Occupied Kashmir, Mohtarma Aasiya Andrabi Sahiba the leader of Dukhtarn Millat who is illegally detained in jail to the isolation punishment ward of Delhi's notorious Tihar Jail, strongly condemns this action of the Modi regime against an innocent person whose only crime is raising her voice for 'Azadi'.

The Senate of Pakistan, expresses full solidarity with Aasya Andrabi Sahiba, salutes her courage and that of all of the political prisoners in Indian Occupied Kashmir, and urges her immediate release from illegal imprisonment.

The Senate urges the Government of Pakistan to take up the issue of Mohtarma Aasiya Andrabi Sahiba with the United Nations Human Rights Council and all other relevant international bodies, so that the sufferings of the oppressed people of Occupied Kashmir, who are bravely facing bayonets of the Indian Occupation army, can end with the restoration of their inalienable rights," the resolution said.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020

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