THE unexpected decision of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency to continue its ban on PIA operations to EU countries in the wake of the May 2020 PIA plane crash in Karachi has come as a big blow to the troubled national carrier and the credibility of the Civil Aviation Authority. The EASA decision came as a surprise since Pakistan had been given to understand that the closure of significant safety concerns of the International Civil Aviation Organisation against Pakistan personnel licensing would lead to the lifting of restrictions on Pakistani airlines. Instead, EASA has conveyed to the PIA management that it would conduct its own evaluation of the CAA and PIA before allowing the resumption of flights from Pakistan even though easing ICAO concerns is an important step towards ending the suspension of PIA’s third-country operator authorisation. EASA says it will conduct an audit of the operator prior to ending its suspension as its safety concerns indicated “serious degradation of the PCAA certification and oversight capabilities … Since deficiencies in state oversight were a contributor to the suspension decision, such an audit will have to include verification if these have been properly addressed and corrected”.
No matter how disappointing or worrying the extension in EASA curbs is for Pakistan’s aviation industry, the development is a stark reminder of public concerns regarding the measures taken by the CAA and PIA to tackle safety lapses, as well as the mess that both the industry regulator and national carrier find themselves in. The extension in the curbs also underscores the doubts of the international aviation safety agencies regarding the ability of the CAA to properly regulate and PIA’s capacity to address myriad safety gaps and other issues related to the airworthiness of its aircraft as per global standards. With EASA unlikely to send its people to Pakistan for carrying out the audit because of security concerns and the Covid situation, both the airline and the CAA should use this time window to improve their credibility.
Published in Dawn, January 26th, 2022