KARACHI: Pakistan said on Wednesday it was hopeful its flight operations to European countries would be revived by April 2023 as the European Air Safety Agency (EASA) said it was working “constructively” with Pakistan’s civil aviation to rebuild its “confidence in the certification and oversight capabilities.”
In July 2020, the EASA had suspended Pakistan International Airlines’ (PIA) authorization to operate in EU member countries over licensing and flight safety concerns.
The licensing scandal tainted Pakistan’s aviation industry and the country grounded 262 airline pilots suspected of dodging their exams following checks of their qualifications.
Pakistan’s grounding of the pilots followed a preliminary report on a PIA crash in Karachi that killed 97 people in May 2020.
The EASA suspension was later extended indefinitely.
In January, the EASA refused to lift the ban citing an audit by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) indicating serious degradation of the PCAA certification and oversight capabilities.
But the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) says there has been an improvement in capabilities since.
“The European Commission (EC) has invited Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority for a technical meeting on October 25, 2022. We are hopeful that the matters will be resolved by April 2023,” Saifullah Khan, a PCAA spokesperson, said.
Khan said that the EC looks after mutual concerns involving the EASA, PIA and other airlines.
“The process of verification is underway and it takes [time],” he said. “In the last stage, the European Union will visit Pakistan, which is being scheduled,” he told Arab News, adding the EASA had also planned to do an online audit of the PIA in October.
The EC team intends to visit Pakistan in January-February 2023 after conducting PIA’s audit, he said.
Janet Northcote, Head of Communications EASA, said the EC and European Union Aviation Safety Agency were working with Pakistan to rebuild its confidence.
“The European Commission and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency are working constructively with the Pakistan CAA to rebuild confidence in the certification and oversight capabilities of the Pakistan authority, which is the first step required for a resumption of PIA flights to Europe,” she told Arab News via email.
Northcote said the EASA will conduct an audit of the operator.
“EASA shall – when considering lifting a suspension of a TCO authorization – conduct an audit of the operator. When the suspension is due to major deficiencies in the oversight of the applicant by the State of the operator or the State of registry, the audit may include an assessment with the aim to verify if these oversight deficiencies have been corrected,” she added.
Northcote said since the EASA is the European Union Aviation Safety Agency— the word Union was added in 2018 and that the UK is no longer a member— hence its decision will not impact a similar ban by the UK.
“Any decisions taken by the European Commission working with EASA will not directly result in any change to the provision of flights to the UK,” she added.
A PIA official, however, said the EC’s meeting cannot be described as a milestone.
“The EC meeting is just facilitation and cannot be called a milestone,” he said. “It’s the EASA which has to take a decision and it takes its decision strictly taking progress on the safety scores for airlines into consideration,” the official told Arab News on condition of anonymity, as he was not authorized to speak on the issue.
PCAA’s spokesperson said last year’s assessment showed the authority had fared well.
“PCAA scored above average [in] South Asia’s score in that assessment and later significantly safety concerns were lifted,” he said.