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U.K. Follows EASA in Suspending PIA Flights to its Airports

by Newsweek Pakistan
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File photo. Asif Hassan—AFP

U.A.E. also writes to Civil Aviation Authority to verify credentials of pilots employed there

The U.K. Civil Aviation Agency on Tuesday night suspended Pakistan International Airlines flight operations from three airports—Birmingham, London Heathrow and Manchester—a few hours after the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) similarly suspended PIA’s air operations for six months over concerns Islamabad is “not capable to certify and oversee its airline operators.”

In a letter written to PIA, EASA said that it was suspending the state carrier’s operations in member states because it had failed to implement a safety management system despite repeated warnings. It added that it also did not believe Pakistan was “capable to certify and oversee its operators and aircraft in accordance with applicable international standards” following Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan’s claims in Parliament that 262 Pakistani pilots had “dubious” licenses.

“PIA flights from Birmingham, London Heathrow and Manchester airports are suspended with immediate effect,” a spokesman for the U.K. authority told Reuters. “The U.K. Civil Aviation Authority is required under law to withdraw PIA’s permit to operate to the U.K. pending EASA’s restoration of their approval that it meets international air safety standards,” they added.

U.A.E. concerns

Separately, the United Arab Emirates has requested Pakistan to verify the licenses of all personnel employed at its airports, including pilots, maintenance engineers and flight operations officers.

In a letter to Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority, the head of U.A.E.’s aviation body said it was requesting the verification “in the wake of recent announcements by the Minister of Aviation of Pakistan.” It urged Islamabad to clarify which, if any, of its personnel had dubious licenses as well as whether any of them were suspects.

“We also request a clarification between fake and suspect cases, if any, so we may take immediate actions,” it said, adding, “Additionally, the U.A.E. employs a number of Aircraft Maintenance Engineers and Flight Operations Officers who converted their respective licenses issued by Civil Aviation Authority.”

Pilots hit back

Also on Tuesday, the Pakistan Airlines Pilots Association (PALPA) questioned the discrepancies in the government-issued list of pilots with “dubious” licenses, and demanded a judicial investigation to resolve the situation.

According to PALPA, 36 of the 141 PIA pilots on the list have either already retired or are no longer employed with the airline. Similarly, Air Blue said seven of the pilots on the list were no longer working with the airline.

“We want a fair and impartial resolution to this matter,” said PALPA President Chaudhry Salman.

Overall, 262 Pakistani pilots have been grounded due to the aviation minister’s claims. Of these, 109 are commercial and 153 airline transport pilots. They would remain grounded until their licenses have been investigated, says PIA. It said of the grounded pilots, 141 were from PIA, nine from Air Blue, 10 from Serene Airline, and 17 from the defunct Shaheen Airlines.

In addition to the ban from EASA and the U.K., PIA pilots employed in Vietnam have been grounded, Qatar Airways and Oman Airways have compiled lists of Pakistani staff, and Kuwait Air has also announced it would take action against Pakistani staff.

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