Pakistan International Airlines hopes of restarting flights to key European destinations was dealt another blow on Saturday after the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) extended its ban on flights from Pakistan.
In a letter to Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) Chief Executive Officer Arshad Malik, EASA Executive Director Patrick Ky said that Pakistan was able to remove the safety concerns raised by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
However, this was only part of the process that would lead to a lifting of restrictions on PIA.
The EASA letter states, “The closure of this significant safety concern was an important step towards a potential lifting of the suspension of your third country operator authorisation”.
However, it notes that “EASA shall conduct an audit of the operator prior to lifting the suspension."
"Since deficiencies in state oversight were a contributor to the suspension decision, such [an] audit will have to include an assessment to verify if these deficiencies have been properly addressed and corrected," the letter adds.
PIA had been restricted from flying to EU states since July 2020 when EASA suspended the Pakistani airlines authorisation to operate flights to EU member states.
In a press conference on Jan 6, 2022, Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan had claimed that Pakistan was writing to EASA – as well as other international aviation bodies – to convey that the safety concerns raised by ICAO had been addressed.
He had hoped that flights to important destinations in Europe could be restarted as early as February or March.
In his correspondence with the PIA chief, Mr Ky noted that:
"[it was encouraging that] ICAO was able to remove the significant safety concerns… raised against Pakistan personnel licensing following the on-site Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme activities, performed in Pakistan from Nov 29 to Dec 10, 2021.”
However, he pointed out that since the safety concerns indicated “serious degradation of the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority’s (PCAA) certification and oversight capabilities,” EASA would have to obtain information on the matter when lifting the suspension.
It recalls that following the suspension of PIA’s third country authorization, the EU Commission had entered formal consultations with PCAA and several meetings had taken place.
“These discussions revealed the need to address the overall oversight capacity of PCAA,” said the EASA.
EASA also hinted that it would only carry out the audit if Pakistan could guarantee the security of their personnel, and that it would be linked to the situation of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, PIA spokesperson Abdullah Hafeez Khan told Dawn that PIA was continuously engaged with EASA ever since the suspension of its authorisation in the wake of licensing issues.
According to him, EASA will now conduct a separate audit of the PCAA and PIA before lifting the suspensions.
“At our end, we are fully prepared and have affirmed our availability to EASA to send in their team at the earliest possible instance,” the spokesperson said.