RAWALPINDI: The Senate Standing Committee on Aviation on Wednesday directed the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to issue notices to booking agents countrywide, stating that no encashment would be allowed on any return ticket after the exit of the passenger from their home country, while travelling on a visit visa.

This measure is being taken to curtail the misuse of return tickets for illicit settlement or work aboard.

The officials, FIA/Immigration HQs, informed the committee that the issue of cancellation of return ticket by the agent back in the home county after the passenger had flown out had been flagged earlier.

The official said after checking by immigration, the traveller was deported and the airline had to pay a heavy fine.

Asks FIA to issue notices to booking agents, briefed on implementation of FATF requirement

According to committee members, it is a serious offence and the FIA was not properly exercising its powers to curtail it. The committee stressed that this was not only causing defamation to the country but also came under the domain of a national offence and strict notice should be taken of it.

The FIA officials argued that the matter should be given off the preview of the FIA as it was a procedural irregularity and did not come under the ambit of committing an offence.

The committee chairman sought a list of similar cases from the FIA and directed it to devise an action plan.

The committee also took serious notice of the delay in Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flights from inside and outside of the country during the last two months.

It noted that the number of FIA counters were not enough to entertain passengers, which also caused delay in flights. The committee was also informed by FIA officials that delay in flights in the United Kingdom, especially at Heathrow airport, was because there were less people after layoffs during Covid -19 pandemic.

The officials said the main causes in the delay in flights were weather conditions, issues pertaining to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and marketing.

They said to pass through immigration, a return ticket, money and letter of residence or hotel booking was required and no person was detained on clearance of these documents.

The committee took notice of another issue raised by Senator Azam Khan Swati in connection with the negligence and inhumane behaviour of PIA officials at Dubai International Airport with passengers of flight (PK-212) on Aug 14 as the flight was 18-30 hours late.

The officials informed the committee that the aircraft was declared Aircraft On Ground (AOG). The committee was told that PK-212 developed a technical issue before the pushback, therefore, all passengers were disembarked from the aircraft.

In order to accommodate passengers, PIA staff on duty contacted different hotels to arrange rooms for the passengers’ layover but in vain.

Ministry officials said as per Dubai Immigration and Dubai Civil Aviation policy, single entry visit holders, cancelled or expired resident visa holders were not allowed to re-enter the country after the exit stamp from immigration. As a result, many passengers had to stay in the departure lounge.

The PIA officials said the matter was under consideration for further investigation, and the handlers would be taken to task if they did in fact showed negligence.

On the matter of implementation of requirement of Financial Action Task Force (FATF) regarding submission of Customs Declaration (Currency Declaration) by inbound and outbound international passengers to stop money laundering, the committee was told that Pakistan Customs requested for placement of Currency Declaration Counters in both international arrival and departure lounges at all international airports along with pre-recorded announcement in Urdu and English.

Instructions have been issued to all international airports for provision of currency declaration counters. Aviation authorities told the committee that reports which state that British Airways grounded all flights to Pakistan due to non-availability of fuel are incorrect and said that British Airways like many other airlines have shortage of staff and that is the cause of suspension of operations.

Briefing on the decision made by Shell Pakistan Limited (SPL) in its board meeting held on Aug 17, 2022 to discontinue SPL’s aviation operation across Pakistan and steps taken by the Aviation Division to deal with after effects/impacts was also taken up.

Published in Dawn, September 8th, 2022

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