UK withdraws PIA permit to operate from Birmingham, London and Manchester airports

Published July 1, 2020
The developments follow grounding of 262 pilots whose licences Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan termed “dubious”. — Wikimedia Commons/File
The developments follow grounding of 262 pilots whose licences Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan termed “dubious”. — Wikimedia Commons/File

The revelation of pilots holding "dubious" licences continued to take its toll as the United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority said it was withdrawing the Pakistan International Airlines' (PIA) permit to operate from three of its airports and the United Arab Emirates sought to verify the credentials of its Pakistani pilots and engineers.

“PIA flights from Birmingham, London Heathrow and Manchester airports are suspended with immediate effect,” a spokesman for the UK authority told Reuters on Tuesday.

The three were major flying destinations for the airline.

Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates is seeking to verify the credentials of the Pakistani pilots and engineers employed in its airlines after the government grounded 262 pilots for holding “dubious” qualifications.

The director general of the UAE's General Civil Aviation Authority Saif Mohammed Al Suwaidi requested the verification of the credentials of Pakistani pilots, aircraft maintenance engineers, and flight operations officers working in the Middle Eastern country in a June 29 letter reviewed by Reuters to Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) Director General Hassan Nasir Jamy.

“We would like to request your good offices to verify the licensing credentials of the attached pilots list who are currently holding UAE's pilots licences based on licences and qualifications issued by PCAA,” the letter said.

The aviation ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

The announcements come on the heels of the European Union Air Safety Agency's (EASA) decision to suspend PIA's operations in the bloc for the next six months.

PIA operations suspended in EU states

Earlier on Tuesday, PIA said in a press release that EASA had suspended the airline's authorisation to operate in the bloc for six months.

“EASA has temporarily suspended PIA's authorisation to operate to the EU member states for a period of 6 months effective July 1, 2020, with the right to appeal against this decision,” a PIA statement said. It added that PIA would discontinue all its flights to European countries temporarily.

All passengers booked on its flights to European destinations will have the option to either extend their bookings to a later date or get a full refund.

PIA said it would temporarily discontinue all its flights to Europe but later said it received a two-day relief with landing permission in Europe and Britain granted from July 1 to July 3. PIA is also allowed over flying until further order, the national flag carrier's spokesman said.

Airline 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.

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.

Pilots question list of 'dubious' pilots

Meanwhile, Pakistani pilots and their union, the Pakistan Airlines Pilots Association (Palpa), say there are discrepancies in the government's list of pilots with licences deemed dubious and are demanding a judicial investigation.

The PIA said the list showed discrepancies once the airlines received it. Thirty-six of the 141 had either retired or moved out, it said. Air Blue said seven of the pilots on the list no longer worked for the airline.

“It contains names of highly educated and qualified pilots who have passed all the tests,” “We want a fair and impartial resolution to this matter,” said Palpa's president Chaudhry Salman.

Pakistan aviation ministry official Abdul Sattar Khokhar said it did not have full details of the discrepancies and "the issue is being sorted out in consultation with airlines and civil aviation authorities".

Aviation Minister Khan's announcement last week of the grounding of 262 airline pilots suspected of dodging their exams had caused global concern.

The minister said the pilots included 141 from PIA, nine from Air Blue, 10 from Serene Air, and 17 from Shaheen Airlines.

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