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Pakistan National Airline’s Operations Suspended In EU Over 'Dubious' Pilots

A Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) plane at the airport in Islamabad
A Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) plane at the airport in Islamabad

The European Union Air Safety Agency (EASA) has suspended the authorization for Pakistan’s national flag carrier to operate in Europe for six months.

The EASA said in a statement on June 30 it had suspended state-run Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) and a smaller private Pakistan airline "in view of the recent investigation reported on in the Pakistani Parliament which revealed that a large share of pilot licenses issued in Pakistan are invalid."

The announcement follows last week’s grounding of 262 Pakistani airline pilots, including a third of PIA pilots, whose licences the country's aviation minister termed "dubious."

PIA said in a statement that EASA suspended PIA's authorization to operate in the EU member states “effective July 1, 2020 with the right to appeal against this decision."

The carrier "sincerely hopes that with reparative and swift actions taken by the Government of Pakistan and PIA management, earliest possible lifting of this suspension can be expected," a statement said.

A PIA spokesman quoted the EASA as telling the company "it is still not sure" if all the remaining pilots are properly qualified, and "they have lost their confidence" in the airline.

Flights to Britain, which is no longer in the EU, will not be affected by EASA’s decision, Khan said.

PIA had not been flying to Europe because of the coronavirus pandemic, but the airline recently resumed bookings for five European capitals, including Oslo, Copenhagen, Paris, Barcelona, and Milan.

It said that passengers booked on PIA flights to Europe will have the option to extend their bookings to a later date or get a full refund.

Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan said during a June 24 parliamentary session that an inquiry had found 262 pilots -- out of a total of 860 active pilots in Pakistan -- had obtained their licenses through cheating and having others take exams for them.

The pilots in question included 141 at PIA, while the remaining pilots were working for private airlines and charter services.

However, PIA said the government list showed discrepancies, claiming that 36 of the 141 had either retired or moved out.

The Pakistan Airlines Pilots Association (PALPA) also raised doubts about the list, saying it included names of qualified pilots.

The scandal emerged after a PIA Airbus A320 crashed in Karachi on May 22, killing 97 people, following a resumption of domestic operations.

Investigators blamed the plane’s two pilots and air-traffic controllers.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
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