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US revokes Pakistan Airlines’ permission citing concern over pilot certifications

Pakistan International Airlines, AP-BLZ, Airbus A320-216. (Anna Zvereva/Flickr)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has revoked permission for Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) to conduct special direct flights to the United States because of concerns over Pakistani pilot certifications.

The permission was revoked “due to recent events identified by the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority that are of serious concerns to aviation safety, specifically matters pertaining to the proper certification of certain Pakistani pilots,” according to an e-mail sent to the airline from a law firm that Dawn said it had seen.

PIA spokesman Abdullah Khan confirmed that the airline had been notified of the decision in an e-mail, Dawn reported.

According to Reuters, the information is contained in a revocation of special authorization dated July 1 provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Pakistan last month grounded almost a third of its pilots after discovering they may have falsified their qualifications.

The licenses of 262 Pakistani airline pilots, including a third of PIA pilots, were termed “dubious” by Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan.

Khan said during a June 24 parliamentary session that an inquiry had found that the 262 pilots had obtained their licenses by cheating and having others take exams for them.

More than half the pilots in question worked for PIA, but the airline said some had either retired or left their jobs.

The scandal emerged after a PIA Airbus A320 crashed in Karachi on May 22, killing 97 people, following a resumption of domestic operations that had been paused during the coronavirus pandemic. Investigators blamed the plane’s two pilots and air-traffic controllers.

PIA spokesman Abdullah Hafeez said in a statement quoted by Dawn that the decision by the U.S. authorities was “a setback.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation in April granted PIA permission to operate 12 direct flights to repatriate people stranded by the coronavirus pandemic. It was the first time that Pakistan’s national flag carrier operated direct flights to the United States.

The airline is coordinating with the department, Hafeez said, adding that “we sincerely hope that with the reformative process already under way, they will review their decision to revoke the permissions of special flights operating from Pakistan directly to the U.S. and back.”

The European Union Air Safety Agency (EASA) has already suspended the authorization for PIA to fly in Europe for six months.

The EASA said in a statement on June 30 it had suspended PIA and a smaller private Pakistani airline in view of the investigation reported on in the parliament.

The development comes as Pakistan’s government has tried to assuage concerns about Pakistani pilots, stating that an inquiry into the issuance of “illegal” licenses to 236 pilots between 2012 and 2018 was in progress, according to Dawn.