Threat of Omani airspace ban looms over PIA

Updated 14 Jul 2020

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US downgrades Pakistan’s air safety rating; CAA assures Muscat’s regulator about pilots’ credentials, flights safety measures. — Dawn/File
US downgrades Pakistan’s air safety rating; CAA assures Muscat’s regulator about pilots’ credentials, flights safety measures. — Dawn/File

RAWALPINDI: As the Pakistan aviation regulator and the national flag carrier grapple with the credibility crisis that hit the institutions last month, a threat of a ban on Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flights in the airspace of Oman looms large as the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) assured them that credentials of all pilots had been scrutinised to ensure flight safety.

While expressing concern over the recent safety issue with the PIA, the Omani Civil Aviation Authority warned Pakistan that the national flag carrier could be barred from using its airspace, sources said. They added that the Omani authorities also asked Islamabad to explain what curative measures had been taken to ensure safety of flights.

Earlier, the European Union Air Safety Agency suspended PIA authorisation to operate to the EU member states for six months, while the International Air Transport Association (IATA) also shared its concern over the serious lapse in the licensing and safety oversight by the aviation regulator.

The Pakistan CAA explained to the Omani Civil Aviation Authority that credentials of all pilots, who were allowed to fly, had been scrutinised before they had been declared fit to fly, the sources said. The Omani authorities were further informed that the scrutiny of pilots was initiated by the Pakistani authorities on the directive of the Supreme Court of Pakistan a couple of years ago, the sources explained.

US downgrades Pakistan’s air safety rating; CAA assures Muscat’s regulator about pilots’ credentials, flights safety measures

“As the PTI government came into power, the process of scrutiny was paced up but our pilot licences are never faked. Sometimes there are only validity issues. There had been anomaly in the examinations after which those pilots were grounded in the light of a forensic report,” a source said, adding that all the PIA pilots who continued to fly aircraft had been cleared after scrutiny and they all were well-experienced.

Amid the aviation crisis, seven other countries where Pakistani pilots had been employed with different airlines had asked Islamabad to verify their credentials.

While the Omani CAA did not officially send any specific list of Pakistani pilots employed there to verify their credentials, the authorities only asked Islamabad to explain what curative measures had been taken to ensure the safety of flights as why not the PIA should be barred from using the Oman’s airspace.

28 pilots’ licences cancelled

Meanwhile, the commercial flying licence of 28 Pakistani pilots have been cancelled. They had been traced to have ‘dubious’ licences in 2018. After legal formalities, they would be terminated from service by the airline.

Of the 262 ‘dubious’ licence holders, 34 pilots had been suspended by the aviation division. Twenty four other pilots were suspended on Saturday, while sources said 30 to 40 pilots were expected to be suspended within the next few days.

The aviation crisis in Pakistan has caught world attention after the federal Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar in the National Assembly had declared that 150 pilots of the national flag carrier had been having dubious licences.

Seven countries given verification

The sources said the CAA had already cleared credentials of 142 Pakistani pilots employed in different countries and sent confirmations to the aviation authorities of those seven countries, including Malaysia.

“CAAM is pleased to inform that Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) has been very cooperative in our request on the verification of the Pakistani pilot licence holders who are currently employed in Malaysia. So far, less than 20 names have been sent to PCAA and those pilot license holders have been verified by PCAA to be valid licences,” a public relations officer at CAAM said in an email reply.

Besides the CAAM, the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia had also asked the Pakistan government to verify the licence of five Pakistani pilots serving there. All the five Pakistani pilots employed in Ethiopia had been cleared by the Pakistan CAA.

Some Pakistani pilots have also been serving with different airlines in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Oman.

A senior official of the CAA told Dawn that all the requests that Islamabad received till Monday for verification of Pakistani pilots’ licences had been fulfilled. All the pilots working in those countries had been cleared, the official said, adding that the verification of those pilots serving in Pakistan would be completed within one week.

Reuters adds: In a related development, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) early on Tuesday downgraded Pakistan’s air safety rating after the agency raised concerns about pilot certifications.

The decision, disclosed on an FAA spreadsheet dated July 15 that was posted on an agency website and confirmed by an agency official, means the US air safety agency determined Pakistan does not achieve international standards and now has a Category 2 rating.

The Pakistani embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The new rating means Pakistan airlines could be subject to additional inspections at US airports and could not add additional flights.

On Friday, the US Department of Transportation said it had revoked permission for PIA to conduct charter flights to the United States.

Published in Dawn, July 14th, 2020