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The Pakistani airline PIA is no longer allowed to fly to Europe. Photo: PIA

Pakistan’s airline PIA grounded in Europe due to fake pilot licenses

Regulators have banned Pakistan International Airlines from flying to the European Union for six months after the state airline was forced to take nearly a third of its pilots out of service. The pilots were caught with either fake or questionable licenses, spokesmen said on Tuesday.

Published: July 5, 2020, 8:05 am

    The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) announced that “it is still not safe” even if all PIA’s remaining pilots happen to be qualified and added that “they have lost their confidence,” PIA spokesman Abdullah Khan told AFP.

    The ban is the latest blow to the PIA after Pakistan’s Minister of Airways announced to Parliament last week that a state review had found that 262 of the country’s 860 active pilots have fake licenses or have cheated on the tests.

    More than half of them work at PIA, and the airline said it would immediately issue a flight ban for 141 of its 434 pilots.

    EASA says they have grounded PIA and a smaller, private Pakistani airline “in view of the latest investigation reported in the Pakistani parliament which showed that a large part of the pilot licenses issued in Pakistan are invalid”.

    The PIA will file an appeal, Khan said.

    The airline has only flown limited international flights for months as a result of the Coronavirus. A resumption of domestic flights last month led to a crash, the cause of which is reported to be pilot error and which killed 98 people.

    The PIA had recently reopened flights for five European capitals, including Paris, Milan and Barcelona. Flights to the UK, which are no longer in the EU, have also been canceled, Khan said.

    EASA said it stopped the PIA “because of concerns about the ability of the competent authorities to ensure that Pakistani carriers always meet the applicable international standards”.

    Chaudhry Manzoor Ahmed, a senior figure in the Pakistan Peoples Party opposition party, says that the PIA’s problems have “jeopardized the country’s reputation”.

    “The European Union’s decision is the result of successive folly of incompetent decision-makers,” Ahmed said in a statement.

    Prime Minister Imran Khan told Parliament that he would reform the PIA and other government institutions. “I want to say to my nation: We have no other option, reforms are inevitable,” he said on Tuesday.

    Air Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan has promised that a restructuring of the PIA will be completed by the end of the year.

    On May 22, a plane from the PIA crashed in a house in Karachi, killing 97 people aboard the plane and a child on the ground.

    The accident investigation revealed that the pilots, who talked about the Coronavirus while landing the Airbus A320, failed to clear landing sites. Pakistan’s national airlines has been plagued by chronic mismanagement, late flights and frequent financial problems.

    PIA, which is led by an active Air Force officer, currently has a fleet of 31 aircraft and approximately 14 500 employees. The high ratio of employees per plane has led to long-standing accusations that the government and the military are using the airline to distribute jobs to retired military and politicians.

    Even before the Coronavirus, the PIA faced an economic crisis, and the EU’s shutdown will aggravate the situation. The airline clocked up around $330 million in losses last year, compared to about $400 million in 2018.

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