Pakistan International Airlines, or PIA, was still in the midst of operating repatriation flights for stranded Pakistanis from Europe late last month. Then the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) decided to ban the carrier from EU airspace. The beleaguered carrier has now enlisted the aid of European charter carrier Hi Fly to operate a special flight from Paris to Islamabad on Wednesday.
PIA banned in Europe since last month
Following the revelation that as many as 150 of the airline’s pilots had been grounded after charges of “dubious” licenses, the EASA promptly banned PIA from operating in EU airspace on June 30th. The US Department of Transporation followed suit a day later.
While the investigation into false pilot certificates was already underway, it accelerated as a result of the deadly crash of PIA’s flight PK8303 in Karachi two months ago. The incident, in which 98 people lost their lives, was deemed the fault of the plane’s pilots, and subsequently, a whole 30% of Pakistani pilot licenses have been deemed untrustworthy.
Stay informed: Sign up for our daily aviation news digest.
Paris to Islamabad and back
However, this has left Pakistani citizens still stranded in Europe without means of getting back home. Just yesterday, Simple Flying reported on ongoing talks between PIA and an undisclosed carrier as there was a “tremendous demand” for direct flights between Europe and Pakistan. And so, it would seem that the mission has landed with Hi Fly. However, thus far, the permit appears to be for a single round-trip.
Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has reportedly granted permission to the Portuguese charter carrier to operate flights on behalf of PIA. The Express Tribune states that the permit is for one flight to arrive in Islamabad from Paris on July 22nd, carrying up to 250 passengers. Hi Fly is also allowed to take passengers on board on the way back one day later, on July 23rd.
The flights are reportedly priced at €800 ($915) and marketed by PIA’s general sales agent in France.
The only successful A380 transition
Portuguese private charter airline Hi Fly’s claim to fame is that it operates the only A380 to have transitioned onto the second-hand market successfully. Repainted from Singapore Airlines’ livery in 2018, the double-decker has since operated wet lease charter flights around the world.
However, it was recently turned into the world’s first superjumbo cargo-jet, so most likely, this is not the aircraft that will be ferrying Pakistani citizens from Paris. And, of course, even if it weren’t, it would make no sense for carrying 250 people. Although, operating an A380 at half capacity would allow for some pretty good social distancing on board.
— Hi Fly (@hifly_airline) July 9, 2020
Most likely, the flights will be operated by one of Hi Fly’s A340s, as its only active A330 was still listed in May as operating for Air Senegal.
Over a quarter of a million Pakistanis have been repatriated since the start of the pandemic. It remains to be seen how many more will be returning as a result of this new cooperation.
Have you been affected by the ban on PIA flights in EU and US airspace? Let us know in the comments.