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Pilot fears leave PIA special flight operations in limbo

By News Desk
April 06, 2020

Ag NNI

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Airline Pilots’ Association (Palpa) has prohibited pilots from operating special flights citing Covid-19 fears, complicating the process to repatriate citizens stranded due to worldwide lockdowns aiming to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“It has come to our notice that on recently operated ‘humanitarian flights’ safety has been compromised and Covid-19 related SOPs (standard operating procedures) have been ignored,” reads a statement released by Palpa on Sunday.

Palpa is a body that aims to protect the rights of the national carrier’s pilots. This came a day after the PIA was granted permission to operate eight special flights for London and Manchester.

Palpa stressed that the lives of pilots and aircrew were at risk if they flew to countries hit by the coronavirus pandemic. “The safety and health of our crew members has always been and remains our utmost priority. Palpa will in no circumstances compromise on the safety of its members,” the press release added. Meanwhile, the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) suspended its operations from Karachi on Sunday, while rejecting reports that its pilots from a flight from Britain had contracted the virus.

In a statement, the national carrier clarified its views on quarantining its aviation staff in Karachi. “The PIA is strictly abiding by the instructions issued by the Government of Pakistan,” its spokesperson Abdullah Khan said.

“The instructions include measures related to disinfecting the airplane as well as the crew’s health and safety,” Khan added, noting that the federal government’s instructions were being followed at all airports in the country.

The spokesperson stressed that despite abiding by the federal government’s instructions, the Sindh health department’s officials insisted on quarantining pilots. The spokesperson also dismissed reports about its airplane crew contracting coronavirus as “misleading”. The crew was in isolation in a PIA hotel and were awaiting test results, the spokesperson added. However, the airline’s operations from Karachi were to remain suspended until there was a consensus on government-issued directives, he said.

The spokesperson quoted PIA chief executive Arshad Malik expressed serious concerns over the (Sindh government’s) actions — contrary to the federal government’s instructions, he added.

On Saturday, PIA international flight operations were partially restored for the UK as a special flight carrying several hundred passengers left for London on Saturday night.

British High Commissioner to Pakistan, Dr Christian Turner said in a tweet later on Saturday: “Very happy to hear both PIA flights have landed today helping over 600 vulnerable Brits get home with more flights leaving tomorrow (Sunday).” Another flight was to leave for London on Sunday from Islamabad airport.

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