Regulators in the European Union (EU) have banned Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) for six months after the state-run carrier grounded nearly a third of its pilots for holding fake or dubious licences, officials said Tuesday.
The EU Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) told PIA “it is still not sure” if all the remaining pilots are properly qualified, and “they have lost their confidence” in the airline, PIA spokesman Abdullah Khan said.
EU bans PIA: a huge disaster for disgraced airline
The suspension is the latest fallout for PIA after Pakistan’s aviation minister told parliament last week that a government review had found 262 of the country’s 860 active pilots hold fake licenses or cheated on exams.
More than half of them were from PIA, and the airline said it would immediately ground 141 of its 434 pilots.
The EASA said it had suspended 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”.
PIA is filing an appeal, Khan said.
The airline has only flown limited international flights for months as a result of the coronavirus. A resumption of domestic operations last month was followed by a crash blamed on pilot error that killed 98 people.
PIA had recently resumed bookings for five European capital cities, including Paris, Milan and Barcelona.
Flights to Britain, which is no longer in the EU, have also been suspended, Khan said.
EU banned PIA flights for 6 months and I thought, well UK is longer in EU so at least the large Pakistani diaspora in UK won’t be affected.
12 hours later, UK also imposes a ban.
Pakistan has clearly shot itself in the foot with the fake license scandal.
— Umar Saif (@umarsaif) June 30, 2020
The EASA said it suspended PIA “due to concerns about the capability of competent authorities to ensure that Pakistani air operators are in compliance with applicable international standards at all times”.
Chaudhry Manzoor Ahmed, a senior figure in the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party, said PIA’s woes had “put the country’s reputation at stake”.
“The decision of the European Union is the result of successive follies of incompetent rulers,” Ahmed said in a statement.
Prime Minister promises reforms as EU bans PIA
Prime Minister Imran Khan told parliament he would reform PIA and other government institutions.
“I want to tell my nation: We have no other option, reforms are inevitable,” he said Tuesday.
Aviation minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan has promised that a restructuring of PIA would be completed by the end of the year.
On May 22, a PIA flight crashed into houses in Karachi, killing 97 people aboard the plane and a child on the ground.
Investigators blamed the pilots, who were chatting about the coronavirus while they first attempted to land the Airbus A320 without putting its wheels down.
EU bans PIA: What is the fake license scandal?
Earlier, Pakistan’s national airline was taking heavy flak after it emerged that nearly a third of its pilots were holding fake or dubious licences, with some observers wondering if the struggling national carrier can survive the scandal.
As per aviation Minister out of the total 860 pilots in Pakistan, 262 pilots did not sit for the exams. Someone else sat in the exams for them, he claimed. Based on this, Khan said, 40 per cent licenses are “fake”, and the pilots don’t have the required flying experience.#PIA pic.twitter.com/bRaVJcbY7U
— ThebetterPakistan (@ThebetterPak_) June 24, 2020
The PIA fake license scandal has created a ripple of concerns across aviation circles across the world, with many castigating the national flag-carrier for the lapse in regulation.
Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) this week said it would immediately ground 141 of its 434 pilots after a government review found them to have obtained “bogus” credentials or cheated on exams by having someone else take them.
Once proud PIA finds its reputation in tatters
Until the 1970s, Pakistan’s largest airline was considered a top regional carrier but its reputation plummeted amid chronic mismanagement, frequent cancellations and financial struggles.
PIA, which is helmed by a serving air force officer, currently has a fleet of 31 planes and a payroll of about 14,500 workers.
Read more: PIA PK 8303: The cost of incompetency
The high staff-to-plane ratio has seen long-standing accusations the government and the military use the airline to dish out jobs to cronies and retired military officers.
Even before the coronavirus, PIA was in a financial mess, and the EU suspension will only make things worse.
The airline racked up $340 million in losses last year, compared to $266 million in 2018.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk
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