• Absence of aviation minister in key meeting irks senators
• Senate body discusses baggage handling concerns, aviation issues
• Demands installation of cameras at Karachi airport to beef up security
• CAA chief says number of flying clubs in the country insufficient

RAWALPINDI: The Senate Standing Committee on Aviation on Wednesday raised concerns about the economic repercussions for the country resulting from a delay in the release of pilots’ licences and directed the Ministry of Aviation and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to present a comprehensive report on the matter to help the panel in its decision-making.

The meeting, chaired by Senator Hidayatullah, comes as a team from the European Union’s Aviation Safety Agency is expected to visit Pakistan by the end of this year or early next year for a final safety review, which could lead to lifting the ban on PIA flights to Europe and the UK, which have been suspended since a scandal around fake licences emerged in 2020.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Senator Saleem Mandviwala alleged deliberate delays in releasing the licences, drawing attention to a court ruling that acquitted the accused pilots.

However, the CAA’s director general refuted the claims, citing intricate legal procedures as the primary cause of delays, and requested an in-camera meeting to discuss the issue. The committee chairman then deferred the matter for further investigation and inquiry.

Senator Sherry Rehman critically remarked on the decline of Pakistan International Airlines and CAA under the former PTI aviation minister.

“Today’s meeting seems useless as there is no solution to anything,” she lamented. “Please tell me where we are going. If you are helpless, tell me you can’t do anything,” Ms Rehman told the CAA director.

She flayed the CAA boss, reminding him that he had been working since the last government when the PIA was ruined. “If I were your minister, I would have torn up this presentation,” she said.

The absence of the aviation minister during this crucial meeting also became a bone of contention.

Senator Mohsin Raza demanded that former aviation minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan should be investigated for giving statements in the parliament regarding pilots’ licence issues.

The senator was referring to Mr Khan’s speech in parliament in June 2020 that several commercial pilots held fake licences or cheated in exams.

Baggage handling concerns

The committee also raised concerns about the protocols and reasons for delays in luggage shifting from aircraft to conveyor belts. The DG CAA pointed out that these delays mainly occur at Islamabad International Airport due to Customs’ scanning procedures.

He told the committee that the CAA closely monitored the passenger flow and baggage delivery to avoid inconvenience to passengers, and punitive action was taken against ground handling agencies in case of delays. He highlighted the need for more ground handling staff to manage a large number of bags, sometimes as many as 700-800, especially for large aircraft.

The committee expressed dissatisfaction with the brief and sought a detailed report on issues of flight delays due to lack of maintenance and technical faults, delivery of procurement, etc., in the next meeting.

Senator Mohsin Aziz raised the issue of non-supply of fuel by the state-run Pakistan State Oil to PIA aircraft. He said the ministry should play a leading role in resolving this matter.

The ministry told the Senate panel that fuel arrangement with PSO was on an advance basis. Due to critical financial issues, around Rs1.05 billion was outstanding with PSO in fuel procurement.

Cameras at Karachi airport

Senator Hidayatullah highlighted the issue of security concerns at the Karachi airport, stressing the importance of installing cameras for surveillance.

The DG CAA acknowledged theft issues and identified areas that need coverage. He claimed that the cameras had been procured and the tender was awarded, but the Airport Security Force (ASF) then cancelled the entry permit of the staff of the installation company.

Senator Hidayatullah directed the CAA secretary to address these concerns and expand the camera installation to Lahore airport, seeking a report within 15 days.

Flying clubs

The Senate aviation committee was also briefed on the cash security requisite by flying clubs in Pakistan. It was briefed that the applicable security deposit requirements for flying school licences (including flying clubs) were aligned with the revised National Aviation Policy 2023.

The committee was of the view that the CAA should not run flying schools as a revenue operation but rather as an educational set-up. The committee deferred the matter and decided to call the club’s representatives and take their point of view.

The DG CAA said 13 flying clubs were operating in Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar, Rawalpindi and Multan, which he said were insufficient.

Published in Dawn, October 12th, 2023

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