Pakistan International banned from flying to Europe for six months

Simon Calder
Rescue workers search for bodies and survivors amid the wreckage of the Pakistan International Airlines plane: EPA

Pakistan’s national carrier has been banned from flying from Europe for the rest of 2020.

The European Union Air Safety Agency (Easa) has withdrawn “third country operator” authorisation from Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) for six months from 1 July.

The ban also applies to the UK.

The decision follows the crash of a PIA Airbus A320 on a scheduled flight from Lahore to Karachi on 22 May. Ninety-seven passengers and crew died after a botched “go-around” that damaged the plane on a first attempted at landing.

The preliminary report found the captain and first officer disregarded standard procedures and ignored alarms.

Easa says the crash revealed “successive breaches of multiple layers of safety defences in the safety management system”.

Earlier this month, PIA was summoned to Easa’s headquarters in Cologne to discuss safety shortcomings.

Then, on 24 June 2020, Pakistan’s aviation minister told parliament that 262 out of 860 pilot licences issued by the country’s civil aviation authorities were fraudulent. More than half were held by pilots employed at PIA, though the airline said that 36 of the pilots no longer worked for the airline.

The letter from Easa to PIA says: “There are strong indications that a high number of Pakistani pilots’ licences are invalid.”

It added: “PIA persists in failing to demonstrate compliance with the applicable standards.”

In response, the airline tweeted: “PIA is in touch with Easa to allay their concerns and hopes that the suspension will be revoked.”

The airline can appeal within the next two months.

Passengers have been offered postponements or refunds.

In normal times PIA links the capital, Islamabad, with Heathrow, Birmingham and Manchester; Lahore with Heathrow and Manchester; and Karachi with Heathrow.

None of these flights is currently operating.

A spokesperson for the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said: “PIA flights from Birmingham, London Heathrow and Manchester airports are suspended with immediate effect.

“The CAA is required under law to withdraw PIA’s permit to operate to the UK pending Easa’s restoration of their approval that it meets international air safety standards.”

PIA has suffered two other fatal events in the past six years. In 2014, one passenger died when an Airbus A310 from Riyadh in Saudi Arabia was struck by bullets on the approach to Peshawar in Pakistan.

In December 2016, a domestic flight from Chitral to Islamabad crashed on a hillside with the loss of all 47 passengers and crew on board.

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