• National flag carrier allowed to operate flights to continent till July 3
• UN dept advises staff not to travel on any Pakistan-registered airline

RAWALPINDI/ISLAMABAD: After the International Air Transport Association (IATA) expressed concerns over the ‘serious lapse in the licensing and safety oversight by the aviation regulator’, the European Union Air Safety Agency (EASA) on Tuesday suspended Pakistan International Airlines’ authorisation to operate to the EU member states for a period of six months effective from Wednesday (today), with the right to appeal against the decision.

However, later in the day the European Union allowed PIA to operate its flights to the continent till July 3, the airline’s spokesman said.

PIA spokesman Abdullah Hafeez said the extension in flight operations was granted by the EU after the foreign secretary contacted the European authorities. He said the PIA management, Foreign Office and Pakistani ambassadors were all in contact with European officials.

He told Dawn that PIA would operate its flight PK-785 and PK-786 as per previous schedule. However, the schedule of other flights would be announced later.

In an earlier press release, the spokesman had said: “PIA is in contact with EASA to allay their concerns and to take necessary corrective measures along with filing the appeal against the decision.

“PIA sincerely hopes that with reparative and swift actions taken by the government of Pakistan and PIA management, earliest possible lifting of this suspension can be expected.”

The PIA handout had confirmed that EASA had suspended PIA’s authorisation to operate flights to the Europe member states for a period of six months.

The EASA’s move came in the wake of last week’s statement of federal Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan in the National Assembly declaring that “150 pilots” of the national flag carrier had ‘dubious’ commercial licences. Later, PIA grounded its “107 pilots” after a list of pilots having ‘dubious’ licences was sent to the PIA management.

The pilots and their union raised questions about the government list of pilots as the IATA had also expressed concern over the serious lapse in the licensing and safety oversight by the Civil Aviation Authority.

The PIA had already written to foreign missions and global regulatory and safety bodies, assuring them it had taken stringent steps for the safety of passengers and grounded “105 pilots” suspected of obtaining licenses through unfair means.

EASA’s letter

In a four-page letter to PIA, dated June 30 (Tuesday), the EU Aviation Safety Agency executive director said: “In accordance with Article 82(1) of Regulation (EU) 2018/ 1139 of the European Parliament and of the Council’ and ART.235(a) of Annex 2 (Part-ART) to Commission Regulation (EU) No 452/2014, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) hereby suspends the Third Country Operator (TCO) Authorization No EASA.TCO.PAK-O001.01 issued to M/S Pakistan International Airlines Corporation Limited on [17 May 2016 (the TCO Authorisation).”

The EASA stated that the operator could not demonstrate having effectively implemented all elements of a Safety Management Systems as required by Annex 6 Part 1 and Annex 19 to the Chicago Convention (ref. PAK-OO01/ TR-2017-03/ 04).

The EASA stated it received information according to which Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan on June 24 informed the Pakistani Parliament of the results of an investigation, declaring that more than 260 of the 860 pilot licenses issued by the Pakistani authorities and used by pilots operating for air operators certified in Pakistan are fraudulent.

“Based on this information, EASA is concerned about the validity of the Pakistani pilot licences and that Pakistan, as the State of operator, is currently not capable to certify and oversee its operators and aircraft in accordance with applicable international standards. Pursuant to ART.235(a)(2) of Part-ART, EASA is required to take adequate enforcement measures in this situation.”

Consequently, EASA formally notified PIA Corporation Limited via letter dated June 26 that EASA intended to suspend the TCO Authorisation pursuant to ART.235(a)(1) and (2) of Part-ART. The PIA Corporation was furthermore given the opportunity to voice its opinion on EASA’s intention to suspend the authorisation.

PIA Corporation in response to EASA’s consultation letter, on June 28, provided its opinion and additional information on its intention to suspend the TCO authorisation.

However, EASA stated: “This material was assessed by EASA as insufficient.”

Suspension, right to appeal

In accordance with ART.235(b) of Part-ART, the TCO authorisation was suspended for six months from the date of notification of the decision. During this period, the TCO authorisation may be reinstated if the EASA is satisfied that successful corrective action has been taken. However, after the expiry of six-month suspension, EASA may also extend the suspension period for additional three months, in accordance with ART.235(b) of Part-ART if it is not satisfied that successful corrective action has been taken.

The PIA Corporation has the right to file appeal at EASA against this decision in writing within two months in accordance with Articles 108 to 114 of Regulation (EU) 2018/1139. For this, the PIA is required to pay a fee when lodging the appeal. The appeal notification form with relevant instructions are available on the EASA website.

Airlines removed from UN list

The UN Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS) has removed Pakistani airlines from its ‘Recommended List’, and advised the United Nations staff in Pakistan not to travel on any Pakistan-registered airlines due to the findings from the PIA air crash in Karachi in May 2020.

The removal of Pakistani airlines from the recommended list is a provisional action and until further notice, according to a travel advisory issued by the UNDSS Chief Security Adviser to all UN agencies functioning in Pakistan.

The UNDSS personnel have been instructed to cease the use of any Pakistan-registered air operators, until the investigation and subsequent review. Each UN Security Management System (UNSMS) is responsible for decision making related to the use of air operators in official travel for their staff.

“In light of recent accident information, caution is advised in the use of Pakistan-registered air operators,” the travel advisory says.

There was no response from UN Resident Coordinator in Pakistan on the impact of travel restrictions on Pakistani airlines. With the ban on traveling by Pakistani airlines, UN staff would face difficulty in travelling to different parts of the country where UN agencies are funding development projects. No foreign airlines operate domestic flights within the country.

Asked about the travel ban, a UN official stated: “Travel by road remains the only option now.” In view of the Covid-19 pandemic, the movement of UN officials to project sites is restricted. However, once the pandemic condition improves and the situation returns to normal, the air travel ban would hinder the work of UN system, another UN official added.

Published in Dawn, July 1st, 2020