WASHINGTON: The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) could upgrade Pakistan’s safety rating to Category 1, allowing direct flights from Pakistani airports, the US media reported on Saturday.

There have been no direct flights between the two countries since 2017 when the FAA downgraded Pakistan to Category 2 due to concerns over Pakistan’s aviation safety record.

Simple Flying, a niche news site focused on aviation, reported that the FAA will soon send its inspectors to Pakistan to assess the country’s airports and aircraft. The FAA is the largest transportation agency of the US government and regulates all aspects of civil aviation in the country.

“Should the country’s aviation sector pass the test, there is a good possibility Pakistan will receive a Category 1 rating,” Simple Flying reported.

Earlier this week, Head of Prime Minister’s Strategic Reforms Salman Sufi discussed the possibility of opening up direct flight access for Pakistan with US officials in Washington.

Briefing the Pakistani media after the meeting, Mr Sufi said that the US side “conveyed its readiness to have technical discussions with Civil Aviation Authority and other relevant departments and to undertake necessary visits for resumption of direct flights.”

“To facilitate Pakistani exporters of perishable items to the US, , we have also requested the US to appoint an inspector at Karachi port. This will ensure pre-clearance of mangoes and other food items so they can reach their destination in the US without any delays,” he said.

Simple Flying reported that if Pakistan received a Category 1 safety rating, “Pakistani carriers would be able to launch new direct routes to the US and establish code-sharing agreements with other airlines.”

A Category 1 rating means the country’s civil aviation authority complies with US standards. This rating allows air carriers from that country to establish service to the United States and to carry the code of US carriers through code-sharing arrangements. The FAA lowered Pakistan’s safety rating on July 15th, 2020 after determining it was not in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) safety standards under the FAA’s International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) programme.

With its Category 2 safety rating, Pakistani airlines have restricted access to US airspace and cannot establish new routes or code shares with US carriers. The United States had given the green light for national carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) to operate 12 direct charter flights a month before revoking its decision over safety concerns.

Published in Dawn, July 31st, 2022

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