EASA shoots down PIA’s request to lift ban on Europe flights

January 23, 2022

KARACHI: A European agency on Saturday took the wind from under the local aviation sector’s celebratory wings by shooting down a request to allow Pakistan resume flights to the region even...

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KARACHI: A European agency on Saturday took the wind from under the local aviation sector’s celebratory wings by shooting down a request to allow Pakistan resume flights to the region even after another international safety organisaion’s positive audit report, it is learnt.

European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in its reply to national flag carrier’s appeal to revoke the suspension, said it would carry out an audit of its own before lifting the ban on Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) and Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

The EASA letter came as a blow to the hopes that Pakistan would be again flying to and from European destinations by March this year.

“We are pleased to hear that ICAO was able to remove the Significant Safety Concern (SSC) that was raised against Pakistan Personnel Licensing (PEL) following the on-site USOAP activities performed in Pakistan from 29 November to 10 December 2021,” wrote Patrick Ky, Executive Director EASA, to PIA CEO Arshad Malik.

“As you rightly say, the closure of this SSC was an important step towards a potential lifting of the suspension of your TCO Authorisation (TCOA),” Ky added in the letter.

“As indicated in our letter dated 31 March 2021, the emerging situation on the above-mentioned SSC indicated serious degradation of the PCAA certification and oversight capabilities. Such information shall be taken by EASA when lifting the suspension,” the letter read.

“As you might already know, since the suspension of PIA TCOA, the European Union (EU) Commission entered formal consultation with PCAA and several meetings took place under the remits of the EU Air Safety List (ASL) Regulation (EC) 2111/2005 with the active participation of the EU Commission, PCAA and EASA. These discussions revealed the need to address the overall oversight capacity of PCAA,” it added.

“Even if Pakistan is not listed on the EU ASL, these consultations are still on-going and according to Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2021/2070 of 25 November 2021, amending Regulation (EC) No 474/2006, EU Commissions will continue to engage with PCAA and monitor the further measures adopted and actions taken to address the situation in Pakistan, including through the outcome of the planned ICAO USOAP audit, as well as through a Union on-site assessment visit to Pakistan.”

Additionally, in accordance with Article 235(d) of the TCO Regulation (EU) No 452/2014, EASA shall conduct an audit of the operator prior to lifting the suspension. Since deficiencies in the State oversight were a contributor to the suspension decision, such an audit will have to include an assessment to verify if these deficiencies have been properly addressed and corrected, according to the letter.

“Further to the above mentioned article of the TCO Regulation, the audit shall take place under the preconditions that: (1) the third country operator agrees to be audited; (2) the outcome of the assessments indicates that there is a possibility that the audit will have a positive result; and (3) the audit can be performed at the third country operator’s facilities without the risk of compromising the security of the Agency’s personnel.”

The letter further said as regards to element (2) above, EASA would have to evaluate the latest USOAP audit report in its entirety to determine the robustness of the certification and oversight capacity of PCAA in general and beyond the shortcomings that led to the SSC.

Furthermore, in view of the on-going consultation under the EU ASL, the on-site technical evaluation must be performed with the European Commission, the agency said in the letter.

“Therefore, EASA will need further coordination for the planning of any mission to Pakistan closely with the European Commission.”

It went on to say that as regards to element (3) above, EASA would explore with help of the responsible EU services the necessary conditions under which EASA staff was authorised to travel to Pakistan without compromising their security.

“Finally, as you will certainly understand, on-site activities are currently heavily dependent on the COVID-19 pandemic and its daily evolution,” the letter said.

Commenting on this development, PIA spokesperson Abdullah Hafeez said, “PIA has been continuously engaged with EASA ever since the suspension of TCO authorisations in the wake of licensing issues”.

He said EASA had set clearance for the ICAO audit of PCAA as a precondition for the review of their decision, which stood achieved.

“As next step, and as per article 235(d) of EU TCO Regulations, EASA will now conduct their separate audit for the state regulator PCAA and operator PIA before revoking the suspensions,” Hafeez added.

“We at our end are thoroughly prepared and have affirmed our availability to EASA to send in their team at the earliest possible instance,” he said.

Sources, requesting anonymity, said it was already expected but people in Pakistan rang celebration bells a bit too early.

“It is expected that EASA may send its team by mid of February, which can be hampered by the coronavirus situation at that time in Pakistan,” sources added.

Following the ICAO audit report on PCAA, the government officials were quoted as saying that the licensing issues of pilots would be addressed by the end of March.

“The timeline is still intact, provided that things run smoothly as it can be hoped,” the source added.

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