RAWALPINDI: Pakistan has sought permission from the United States to operate special flights of the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) from the US to bring back Pakistanis stranded there in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to sources, the Pakistan embassy in Washington has been directed to approach the State Department and the Department of Transportation to seek permission for special flights from the US to bring back the stranded Pakistanis. The details of flights regarding their number and other modalities will be decided later.
The move came after the Chief Operating Officer (CEO) of the PIA Air Marshal Arshad Malik wrote to the US embassy in Islamabad seeking permission to operate PIA special flights to repatriate Pakistanis stranded in the US.
The CEO said the PIA had been one of the few airlines that had been serving the two countries for decades. However, for the last few years the PIA had stopped its routine operations for the US, although the Pakistani authorities had been in touch with their US counterparts to resume routine operations and were still maintaining staff in New York.
He said the PIA was actively pursuing approval for resumption of flight operations to the US, the Covid-19 crisis had created a situation which necessitated conduct of urgent air service to repatriate stranded citizens from both the countries.
He said the PIA held a valid Foreign Air Carrier Permit and had submitted its application to US Department of Transportation for fresh security authority through its legal representatives on Feb 7.
Furthermore, security assessment of Islamabad International Airport has been carried out in March.
During a preliminary debrief at the cabinet division and Foreign Office, the US Transportation Security Administration had expressed its satisfaction over the measures and appreciated professionalism of the PIA.
The CEO said the PIA, at this stage, had offered its services to airlift stranded citizens on non-revenue basis, to whom tickets would not be sold. Additionally, all security and safety protocols would be strictly followed.
Air Marshal Malik said due to outbreak of coronavirus the closure of air traffic and ground movements, thousands of people had been stranded all over the world and numerous foreigners were struck in Pakistan.
He said the PIA had embarked upon the task of facilitating stranded citizens for which limited international flight operation had been started at cost basis. The PIA is airlifting nationals of different countries at the request of their embassies and consulates.
The CEO said the US embassy had recently asked the PIA to conduct flight operation to airlift Americans stranded in Pakistan to their country.
He said he had told the US embassy in his letter that the PIA had a fleet of Boeing aircraft which included long range versions and qualified cockpit and cabin crew who had certification and clearances to conduct US flights.
In addition to it, security / administrative systems required to conduct US flights were already in place and the PIA is complying with the World Health Organisation guidelines and other necessary safety instructions in respect of Covid-19 pandemic.
According to the CEO, the PIA has the ability to operate its flights to various US cities including New York, Dallas, Los Angeles and Chicago with the ability to conduct these flights at a short notice. The PIA is ready to follow any security guidelines required for flights to the US.
The PIA has submitted a formal proposal including cost effects to the US Consulate in Karachi and requested that it be authorised by the US to conduct aforementioned flights.
A US Transportation Security Administration team, which visited Islamabad in March, had expressed confidence that the minor recommendations made by them would be implemented on urgent basis by the Pakistani authorities before it completed its report in connection with start of direct flights to US.
Secretary of the Aviation Division Hassan Nasir Jamy along with senior officials from the Aviation Division, Civil Aviation Authority, Airport Security Force and the PIA had met the five- member US delegation in Islamabad and discussed matters related to aviation and security arrangements.
In Oct 2017, the PIA had discontinued its flights to the US because of rising operational cost and in an attempt to cut losses the airline had been facing.
Later, the PIA started negotiations with the US authorities for resuming its direct flights to the US.
Published in Dawn, April 25th, 2020