RAWALPINDI: The Pakistan Airline Pilots Association (Palpa), the body representing pilots in the national airline, on Sunday night asked its members “not to operate any flights until further notice”.
The “urgent advice” was conveyed at a time when suspension of flight operation, which is in force because of the Covid-19 pandemic, is being revisited for bringing back Pakistanis stranded in different countries.
In a letter to its members, Palpa said that on the recently operated “humanitarian flights” safety had been compromised and Covid-19 related SOPs had been ignored. It said the safety and health of crew members had always been utmost priority, adding that Palpa would in no circumstances compromise on the safety of its members.
Palpa’s decsion to halt operation came hours after four crew members of a special flight of the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) were put into isolation by Sindh’s health authorities on their arrival at Karachi airport in the morning.
However, they all tested negative for coronavirus.
PIA spokesperson Abdullah Hafeez said the test report which came late in the night had cleared all the crew members.
He said the national flag carrier had operated a special flight from Islamabad to London which came back without passengers and landed at the Jinnah International Airport Karachi on Sunday.
The four crew members (two crew sets) were sent on board with one operating first leg of the flight and the other operating the second leg. As per SOP instructions, if the crew is not leaving the plane they don’t need to be quarantined. Upon arrival in Karachi, Sindh health ministry officials approached the pilots and insisted on quarantining them despite the fact that it was not needed.
After a hard discussion between the pilots and the health officials, the former’s samples (swabs) were collected for coronavirus test and they were sent into isolation at a hotel at the airport.
Mr Hafeez told Dawn that PIA management strictly adhered to the guidelines set by the Pakistan government which included disinfection of the plane for health and safety of its crew members.
He said the Karachi airport incident with the PIA crew members was against the government’s directives. He said all officials concerned had been informed three hours before the plane returned from London. Yet, he added, the Sindh health officials insisted on quarantining the crew members.
PIA Chief Executive Officer Air Marshal Arshad Malik expressed reservations over what was termed an unfair treatment with the crew members who he said were national heroes as they were serving to repatriate Pakistanis stranded abroad despite threats of Covid-19.
The spokesperson said that Air Marshal Malik was in contact with top officials. “Reports of coronavirus in the crew members are misleading,” he said.
Published in Dawn, April 6th, 2020