Pakistan Back on a Safety Track, Promises Aviation Minister

 - January 20, 2022, 2:56 PM

Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) plans to restart flights to Europe and the UK by mid-March after spending nearly two years on the European Union Aviation Safety Agency’s list of banned operators, according to Pakistan aviation minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan.

The suspension came after the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) published a “Significant Safety Concern for Pakistan,” in which it cited deficiencies involving certification and oversight by Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority. The investigation into the May 22, 2020 crash of a PIA Airbus A320 in which 97 of 99 aboard died along with one of four people injured on the ground led to findings that “a large portion” of licenses issued to Pakistani pilots proved invalid.

Khan confirmed ICAO had completed its safety audit late last year and informed the ministry on January 4 that Pakistan had addressed all safety issues. He added PIA had applied for a resumption of its European operations. "By mid-March, we plan to start flights to London, Manchester, and Birmingham in the UK and to Paris and Oslo in Europe,” he said.

AIN’s check on EASA’s most recent Third Country Operations Authorization operator update on January 19 still did not include PIA as an approved carrier.

Separately, the FAA downgraded Pakistan to a Category 2 rating under its International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) program. Category 2 rated carriers may not initiate new service to the U.S. and cannot carry the code of U.S. carriers on any flights. It remains unclear when FAA will carry out its safety audit for Pakistan to restore its Category 1 status.

Khan said authorities had conducted serious work to fix the wrongs. The country’s Cabinet suspended at least 84 pilots' licenses and fired five officials of the Pakistan CAA for shoddy safety oversight. “The objective has been to bring in reforms,” he insisted. “We have improved our aviation processes not just for licensing pilots but for air traffic controllers and engineers too. We have also looked at operational oversight in airports and ground handling.”

In mid-December last year, CAA International (CAAi), the international technical cooperation arm of the UK Civil Aviation Authority (UK CAA), won a three-year contract to supply electronic examination services to the Pakistan CAA. The agreement covers the provision of Flight Crew Licensing exams for the issue of a national Pakistan license. They will include Commercial Pilot Licence, Private Pilot Licence, and Flight Operations Officer exams. The exams will use CAAi question banks aligned with CAA requirements to reflect the authority’s operating procedures.