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In a development denting the prospects of a revival of Pakistan International Airlines' operations in the continent, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has said that it will conduct an audit of the operator prior to lifting the suspension.

The EASA, in a letter sent to PIA, stated, “We are pleased to hear that Inter-national Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) was able to remove the Significant Safety Concern (SSC) that was raised against Pakistan Personnel Licensing (PEL) following the on-site USOAP activities performed in Pakistan from 29 November to 10 December 2021.”

“As you rightly say, the closure of this SSC was an important step towards a potential lifting of the suspension of your TCO Authorisation (TCOA),” read the letter written by EASA Executive Director, Patrick KY.

ICAO withdraws safety objection after pilot scandal

However, EASA said that the removal of SSC by ICAO does not affect the European ban on the flights as EASA still needs to evaluate the performance of Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA).

PIA’s Europe operations were suspended in 2020 over safety concerns, after Europe's aviation regulator banned Pakistani airlines from its airspace following a scandal over dubious pilot licences.

However, earlier this month the UN's aviation body, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), gave Pakistan's aviation regulator the all-clear in terms of resolving significant safety concerns.

The development also paved way for the aviation sector to resume issuing licences to the country's pilots, with the Aviation Minister, Ghulam Sarwar Khan projecting that PIA’s operations to Europe would resume in the coming months.

"We are expecting PIA's Europe operations will resume in February or March, the airline has made plans for the European operations," Ghulam Sarwar Khan had said.

Meanwhile, EASA said that the emerging situation on the above-mentioned SSC indicated serious degradation of the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) certification and oversight capabilities. "Such information shall be taken by EASA when lifting the suspension," it stated in the letter.

EASA informed that since the suspension of PIA TCOA, the European Union (EU) Commission entered formal consultation with PCAA and several meetings took place. These discussions revealed the need to address the overall oversight capacity of PCAA.

“In accordance with Article 235(d) of the TCO Regulation (EU) No 452/2014, EASA shall conduct an audit of the operator prior to lifting the suspension. Since deficiencies in the State oversight were a contributor to the suspension decision, such audit will have to include an assessment to verify if these deficiencies have been properly addressed and corrected.

The EASA said that it will have to evaluate the latest USOAP audit report in its entirety to determine the robustness of the certification and oversight capacity of PCAA in general and beyond the shortcomings that led to the SSC.

Furthermore, in view of the on-going consultation under the EU ASL, the on-site technical evaluation must be performed with the European Commission.

“Therefore, EASA will need further coordination for the planning of any mission to Pakistan closely with the European Commission,” read the letter.

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