In the last 9 months, the national flag carrier – the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) – has suffered a loss of over Rs19billion on account of a ban imposed on its flight operation by the European Union (EU) primarily due to the negligence of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
Sources in the PIA said the airline has to incur a loss of Rs2.2billion every month since July 2020 when the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (Easa) placed a six-month ban on the PIA flights in the wake of PIA plane crash and a subsequent scandal about issuance of fake flying license to commercial pilots.
The restrictions were extended in December 2020 for a period of three months, till March 31, 2021.
However, Easa has now extended the restrictions for an indefinite period, giving a final warning to the CAA to have its safety audit conducted by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) in summer 2021 – an essential requirement which has not been met since 2009.
EASA has recently issued a letter in response to the CAA and the PIA’s request to lift the ban and use only flight crew and engineers that do not hold Pakistani licenses.
The letter said the agency at this moment considers that not all conditions required to lift the suspension are met and it should now revoke the Third Country Operator Authorisation (TCOA).
The TCOA is a safety authorisation issued by Easa following a technical assessment to non-European aircraft operators conducting commercial air transport flights into the EU
“However, in view of the ICAO audit of Pakistan planned in summer 2021, the ongoing technical consultations with the CAA and due to the exceptional circumstances arising from the current Covid-19 crisis and the consequent travel restrictions, Easa opts not to revoke your TCOA but to further extend the suspension period until all necessary information is available to decide on the way forward.”
On the use of only flight crew and engineers that do not hold Pakistani licences, Easa replied, “The offer does not fully mitigate all concerns regarding the oversight capabilities of the CAA.”
According to a PIA official, a total of 58 weekly flights used to fly to the EU countries, of which 46 went to the United Kingdom while 12 to other European states.
The source said suspension of flights was “causing a monthly loss of Rs2.20 billion to the national flag carrier”. The nine-month-long ban has resulted in a total loss of Rs19billion.
Easa stated, “In February 2021, the ICAO made public a Significant Safety Concern for Pakistan. This is an indication of a serious degradation of the CAA certification and oversight capabilities. Such information shall be taken into consideration by Easa when lifting the suspension.”
In May 2019, a PIA aircraft crashed into a residential area a few kilometers away from the Karachi airport resulting in the death of 97 people including 8 crew members.
Investigation into the incident opened a Pandora’s Box. The licenses of the pilots were called into question with aviation minister Ghulam Sarwar taking action against the ones holding fake certificates.