ISLAMABAD: A Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) spokesperson said on Thursday a flight ban on Pakistan’s national carrier, Pakistan International Airlines, would be lifted after the CAA cleared a July 5 audit from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a specialized agency of the United Nations that works to ensure safety in international air transport.
Pakistan faced global censure and flight bans last year following a scandal involving fraudulently obtained pilots’ licenses that came to light after a Pakistan International Airlines jet crashed in Karachi.
An inquiry into the crash in which 97 people were killed pointed to the pilots not following procedures, while a government minister said the voice recorder suggested the pilots were distracted by a conversation about the COVID-19 outbreak.
Following the crash, Pakistan opened criminal investigations into 50 pilots and at least five civil aviation officials who allegedly helped them falsify credentials to secure licenses.
The scandal tainted Pakistan’s aviation industry globally, and especially hurt PIA, which has been barred from flying to Europe and the United States after dozens of its pilots were named in an initial list of 262 with “dubious” licenses.
A CAA official said his organization’s ICAO audit was scheduled for July 5, after which the PIA flight ban would be lifted.
“We are preparing for the ICAO audit from all aspects and are hopeful to clear it,” Saad bin Ayub, a spokesperson for the CAA, told Arab News.
A spokesperson for PIA said the airline had received the mandatory International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) operational clearance certificate for the next two years, but could not resume its suspended flight operations to the United Kingdom, European Union and United States anytime soon.
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) placed a six-month ban on PIA flights in July 2020 and has since been extending the ban until CAA clears its mandatory external audit from the ICAO.
“We have passed the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) for the next two years … but still we can’t resume our flight operations until the civil aviation authority also clears its ICAO audit,” Abdullah Hafeez Khan, a PIA spokesperson, told Arab News.
The IOSA issues an operational clearance certificate every two years to all its member airlines after performing a thorough safety audit. It conducted the audit for PIA in October last year and has now granted the license to the airlines for the next two years.
“The scrutiny of our operations was increased after the plane crash and the pilots’ flying licenses scandal,” Khan said, adding that PIA was waiting for CAA’s audit clearance to resume its flight operations to the UK, EU and US.
The Civil Aviation Authority has had its international audit deferred since 2009 for different reasons, including manpower shortages and lack of expertise. Officials said the International Civil Aviation Organization was not ready to let the CAA continue its operations without a complete audit of its regulatory functions, licensing, airworthiness and flight standards.