The United States of America (USA) has allowed Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) to operate direct flights for the first time in history. The move came after the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the PIA Air Marshal Arshad Malik wrote to the US embassy in Islamabad seeking permission to operate PIA special flights to repatriate Pakistanis stranded in the US.
According to a communique by the US Department of Transportation, PIA will be allowed to operate 12 round-trip or one-way passenger or cargo flights. The permission will expire on April 29, 2021. However, the development seems to be important for Pakistan as it is likely to get permission for regular flights if it completely follows all the protocols.
For the first time in history, @Official_PIA will be allowed to operate non stop direct flights to the US. These flights will go to New York, Dallas, Washington DC & New Ark airports. https://t.co/uv28ORMMfj
— PakistanAviation (@PKAviation) April 30, 2020
The CEO reportedly said in his letter that the PIA held a valid Foreign Air Carrier Permit and had submitted its application to the US Department of Transportation for fresh security authority through its legal representatives on Feb 7.
PIA, since its inception on October 29, 1946, Karachi-Pakistan, has never been allowed to operate direct flights from Pakistan to the USA. Initially, there were some technical issues e.g. Pakistan did not have aeroplanes for such long routes and then there were some security issues after the 9/11 saga.
“A welcoming news to all ears”
Abdullah H. Khan, PIA’s spokesperson, spoke to GVS and explained the development. “It will be the first occasion whereby PIA has been allowed to operate non-stop across the Atlantic and its welcoming news to all ears. An authorization letter has been issued by the Department of Transport with clearance from the US Department of Transportation as Special Permission,” he said.
CEO PIA Air Marshal Arshad Malik had earlier formally requested US Authorities for operating repatriation flights directly to the US. If the USA allows PIA to operate direct flights it would help Pakistan not only save money but also time.
Moreover, this came after exhaustive backchannel work by the PIA management, involving the highest levels of the Government, Foreign Offices, and Diplomatic Missions and shows the warming relationship between Trump administration and Imran Khan-led Pakistani government.
The permission also highlights that US government support in coming to the aid of stranded Pakistani citizens in the US in the time of need, he added.
It is worth recalling that the PIA had stopped its operations to the US in October 2017. Earlier, PIA used to operate flights to the USA with a mandatory stopover on Transportation Security Administration (TSA) cleared airports in UK or Europe for security clearance.
This is the first time that PIA has been allowed to operate direct flights. The direct flight authorization comes after a series of Transportation Security Administration team visits to Pakistan examining preparedness of the country’s airports and overall airline’s security apparatus and procedures.
A US Transportation Security Administration team, which visited Islamabad in March, had expressed confidence that the minor recommendations made by them would be implemented on an urgent basis by the Pakistani authorities before it completed its report in connection with the start of direct flights to the US. But still, it was not known ‘whether the USA allows PIA or not’.
— The Express Tribune (@etribune) March 10, 2020
Secretary of the Aviation Division Hassan Nasir Jamy along with senior officials from the Aviation Division, Civil Aviation Authority, Airport Security Force, and the PIA had met the five-member US delegation in Islamabad and discussed matters related to aviation and security arrangements.
Air Marshal Arshad Malik thanked PM Khan
CEO PIA Air Marshal Arshad Malik expressed gratitude to the Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan whose personal interest was fundamental in getting this coordination done and also the Federal Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan and officials of Foreign Ministry in making this extraordinary feat possible.
The CEO has reportedly said the PIA, at this stage, had offered its services to airlift stranded citizens on a non-revenue basis, to whom tickets would not be sold. Additionally, all security and safety protocols would be strictly followed.
It is also important to mention that quite recently a PIA Audit report detected a number of irregularities, non-recoveries, violation of rules & regulations, especially in the appointment of the Pakistan International Airlines’ chief executive officer, recommending his removal from the position.
However sources inside PIA reveal that strong lobbies outside and PIA Unions from the inside are joining hands to remove the new CEO – the way previous one, Dr Musharaf Rasul, was thrown out on technicalities.
Arshad Malik, and his team, had taken on the unions head-on and removed hundreds of PIA employees who were holding fake degrees. Under his management, in the last one year, PIA has increased its revenues by 41%. National Airline is under debts of more than Rs.400 billion and no business entity is prepared to invest in PIA. The airline also finds it difficult to raise finances from the market. And when it succeeds as it recently did through Standard Chartered Bank (SCB) Dubai it has to pay a much higher markup.
Analysts believe that the PIA under the leadership of CEO Malik and Prime Minister Khan is likely to become one of the best airlines in the world. However, the CEO and his team would have to be well-aware of the lobbies working against them in and outside the PIA.