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ISLAMABAD: Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has to wait till July 2021 to resume its EU, US and UK operations as Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) is yet to meet the safety standards of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).

Talking to Business Recorder, a spokesman for PIA said that ICAO and EASA teams would visit Pakistan to undertake Universal Safety Oversight Audit (USOA) to determine whether PCAA had met the mandatory safety requirements related to pilot licenses and aircrafts or not.

The fake pilots' license case triggered EASA to impose a six-month ban on PIA from operating in the EU member states from July 1, 2020 followed by Federal Aviation Administration US and UK Civil Aviation also imposing a ban on PIA operations on July 9, 2021. In December 2020, the ban was extended for three months (till March 2021). On June 24, Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar disclosed in a parliamentary session that 262 pilots were issued fake licenses. Later, 119 pilots were given a clean chit and 22 pilots were charged with having fake licenses.

The ICAO team visited Pakistan from September 13 to October 13 2020 and suggested to PCAA to immediately revamp pilot licensing system before issuing new licences and to make certain changes in safety aspects of airlines, airports and ground handling firms.

The ICAO’s audit team made 36 observations on safety and PCAA has addressed most of these observations, sources maintained.

The United Nations' aviation watchdog ICAO, which audits the aviation safety and aviation security oversight capacities of its 193 member countries was scheduled to undertake an audit in November, 2020, but PCAA reportedly failed to meet the mandatory requirements as per PIA sources.

In contrast to PIA stance, sources in PCAA said that the ICAO team postponed its trip to Pakistan for USOAP till July 2021 due to COVID-19. After their positive report, PIA would be able to resume UK, USA and EU operations, they maintained.

Replying to a question, the PIA spokesman said that International Air Transport Association (IATA) after a weeklong Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) had given satisfactory remarks to PIA last year, which complied with 98.5 percent of safety parameters.

“The airline is facing financial losses due to the ban. The size of financial losses due to the ban will be revealed in the annual financial statement for 2020 which will be released in a couple of days,” he added.

Another official on condition of anonymity told Business Recorder that 35 percent of the total revenue of Rs 150 billion of PIA is generated from EU, UK and US routes.

Instead of facilitating PIA, the PCAA is allowing foreign carriers to operate in Pakistan, which is another source of concern for the national flag carrier, the official maintained.

According to PIA website, the operation of the airline is limited to 19 international destinations. PIA is expanding its operations to China, Afghanistan and Central Asian countries like Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan to mitigate financial losses due to ban in EU, USA and UK, the spokesman said.

In February 2021, PIA also gave a tender to acquire eight narrow-bodied aircraft on a six-year lease. The tender has seen an overwhelming response, with 150 groups offering to provide the aircraft which is under financial and technical evaluation, the spokesman maintained.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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