EU bans two Pakistani airlines in wake of licence scandal

Pakistan International Airlines is one of two carriers stripped of their EU operating permit. [Photo: Shutterstock]

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) banned Pakistan’s national airline from operating in EU airspace on Tuesday (30 June), after an inquest found that up to a third of Pakistani pilots may have acquired their licences illegally.

The agency confirmed to EURACTIV that the permit suspension would apply to Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) and Vision Air International, taking effect as of midnight Tuesday for six months. The airlines have two months to appeal the decision.

PIA announced last week that it would ground 150 of its 434 pilots after a national investigation discovered widespread exam fraud.

According to the Asian country’s aviation minister, 262 of Pakistan’s 860 active licence holders may have obtained their credentials by cheating or paying other people to sit their examinations in their stead.

The inquiry was prompted by a deadly crash near Karachi in late May that killed 97 people. A preliminary report has suggested that the pilots had not followed procedure and had ignored warnings from air traffic controllers.

Pakistan’s decision to ground so many pilots was not enough for EASA, which said in a letter to PIA that “there are strong indications that a high number of Pakistani pilot licenses are invalid”.

“EASA therefore no longer has confidence that Pakistan, as the State of operator, can effectively ensure that operators certified in Pakistan comply at all times with the applicable requirements for crew qualification,” the agency added.

UK set to eject out of EU aviation regulator

The United Kingdom will leave the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) at the end of 2020, according to Britain’s transport minister. Shifting responsibility back to its own regulator could cost the UK £400m over the course of a decade though.

PIA has acknowledged EASA’s conclusion and agreed to suspend all planned flights. A spokesperson confirmed that the carrier will be appealing and that no other aviation regulators had contacted the airline with concerns.

PIA operates flights to eight European cities, four of which are in EU member states. Operation licences can only be issued by EU27 national governments if EASA has pre-approved the applicant airline.

EASA’s decision also nixed services to the United Kingdom, where PIA serves three separate airports, as the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is required to follow the EU agency’s lead during the Brexit transition period.

It has been a busy week for the world’s aviation regulators. The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) conducted two test flights of Boeing’s stricken 737 MAX plane as part of the recertification process for the aircraft.

Two 737 MAXs were involved in fatal crashes that were found to be caused by manufacturer error, leading to the worldwide fleet being grounded. EASA has indicated that it will do its own test flights before agreeing to let the plane fly again in its jurisdiction.

Boeing crash could be ‘scandal to rival Dieselgate’, say MEPs

The European Parliament’s transport committee quizzed the head of the EU Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) on Monday (18 March) about the ongoing investigation into a crash that prompted agencies around the world to ground Boeing MAX aircraft.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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