Flights to Europe, US may restart in couple of months: Ghulam Sarwar

Published January 7, 2022
Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan addresses a press conference in Islamabad on Thursday. — AFP
Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan addresses a press conference in Islamabad on Thursday. — AFP

ISLAMABAD: After getting a green light from the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), Pakistan hopes to restart flights to important destinations in Europe, the US and UK in February or March.

Terming this announcement ‘good news’ for the new year, Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan told a press conference on Thursday that direct flights to Central Asian destinations, including Bishkek, Baku and Tashkent would also be introduced.

Pakistani carriers had been restricted from flying to EU states in July 2020 when the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) suspended Pakistan International Airlines’ (PIA) authorisation to operate flights to EU member states.

The measure was taken in the wake of the May 22, 2020 plane crash in Karachi and the subsequent damning statement by Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar, who had claimed that around 40 per cent of Pakistani pilots had ‘dubious licences’.

During Thursday’s press briefing, the aviation minister also revealed that legal action had been taken against five Pakistani CAA officials following the inquiry launched against 262 pilots.

Speaking to reporters, the federal minister also said that PIA was planning to operate flights to three destinations in the UK — London, Birmingham and Manchester — as well as Paris and Oslo on mainland Europe. The minister also indicated that flight operations for Canada would resume as well.

Talking about the process of re-accreditation, the minister termed the withdrawal of ICAO’s safety concerns against Pakistan “a major achievement”.

Mr Sarwar said he had invited the ICAO audit team to Pakistan to prove that not only had all of their safety concerns been addressed, but steps had also been taken to improve pilots’ training and licensing processes.

The ICAO audit team was in Pakistan during from Nov 29 to Dec 10, 2021. During their visit, they inspected the CAA’s systems including flying clubs, visited airports, observed domestic flight departures, examined the safety measures in place and received pilot examination system.

The aviation minister said that following clearance from ICAO, the Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) had reached out to the UK CAA, EASA and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of the US to convey that the safety concerns raised by ICAO had been addressed.

They had been asked to lift the restrictions placed on Pakistan-registered aircrafts from operate in EU, UK and US territories

The minister said there were currently four registered airlines in Pakistan, including PIA, AirBlue, Air Sial and Serene Air, all of whom were internationally certified during the ICAO audit.

“To further improve pilot licensing, Pakistan has signed a two-year memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the British Civil Aviation Authority for pilots’ CPL and ATPL licensing. Under the MoU, UK’s licensing cell will administer the exams to candidates and will also checking and mark their exam papers,” the minister said.

Mr Sarwar maintained that the aviation industry as a whole had suffered due to the pandemic, adding that some airlines had to ground half their fleet.

However, he claimed that Pakistan’s national flag carrier, with a fleet of 34 aircraft, had done good business during the pandemic as its revenue was up, losses were down and two Airbus A320 aircraft had been added to the fleet.

He vowed that Pakistan will not surrender any routes and would only allow A380 flights to operate on a reciprocal basis.

Published in Dawn, January 7th, 2022

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