ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has suspended its flight operations from Karachi in view of the Sindh government’s “forcible” quarantining of its pilots over fear that they might be coronavirus carriers.
On Saturday, PIA operated two special flights carrying nearly 600 British passengers to Manchester and London.
The flights left Pakistan as pressure built on British authorities to repatriate vulnerable citizens that were stuck in Pakistan as the government had banned international commercial flights for the period of March 21 to April 4.
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In a statement issued on Sunday, the national flag carrier clarified its views on quarantining its aviation staff in Karachi.
"The PIA is strictly abiding by the instructions issued by the government," its spokesperson said.
"The instructions include measures related to disinfecting the airplane as well as the crew's health and safety," the spokesperson added, noting that the federal government's instructions were being followed at all airports in the country.
Referring to the quarantining of PIA pilots, he said that the incident that took place at Karachi airport was "contrary to the directives issued by the Government of Pakistan for aviation staff" and added that all the officials concerned were informed three hours prior the plane returned from London.
“However, despite instructions, the Sindh health department's officials insisted on forcefully quarantining the pilots,” the spokesperson said.
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Meanwhile, PIA Chief Executive Officer Air Marshal Arshad Malik has expressed serious reservations over the actions saying that they were contrary to the federal government's instructions.
He said the PIA crew was unfairly treated in Karachi and the reports of the presence of coronavirus in the air crew were misleading.
“The PIA aviation personnel are our national heroes who serve to repatriate trapped Pakistanis despite threats,” the CEO said.
"We have ensured all possible safety measures for the aviation staff," he added.
Quoting the PIA CEO, the spokesperson said that the aviation operations from Karachi would remain suspended until there was a consensus on the directives of the federal and provincial governments.
The spokesperson maintained that PIA was constantly in contact with top management and the reports about its airplane crew contracting coronavirus were misleading.
“The crew is in isolation at a PIA hotel and is awaiting test results,” he said.
The Pakistan Airlines Pilots’ Association (Palpa) has also restrained its pilots from flying aircraft citing inadequate security arrangements for the staff in the wake of coronavirus pandemic and quarantining of crew.