Pakistan’s Airlines Could Soon Be Allowed To Fly To US, UK, & EU

It has been nearly a year and a half since the aviation authorities of the US, the UK, and the European Union banned airlines from Pakistan. However, ICAO’s delayed safety audit of Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority is now complete. A letter officially declaring the satisfactory results was signed on Tuesday this week, initiating a return for Pakistani carriers to the abovementioned markets.

PIA 777-200ER
With the ICAO safety audit officially concluded, PIA could soon be allowed to operate to the EU, UK, and US again. Photo: Getty Images

Deadly discovery of dubious licenses

Following the crash of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight 8303 in May 2020, resulting in the death of 98 people, it became apparent that several pilots were working for the airline under falls pretenses. A major scandal ensued regarding falsified pilot licenses, and the airline ended up firing close to 60 of its employees. A few were proven to hold fake certifications, while others were let go because of embezzlement and absence from duty.

As a result of the costly discovery, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) banned PIA flights to the EU in July 2020. At the same time, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) demoted Pakistan to safety category 2, banning Pakistani carriers from flying to the US, and the UK’s CAA followed suit. A damning statement from Pakistan’s Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan said that as many as 40% of Pakistani pilots potentially held ‘dubious’ licenses.

Meanwhile, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) launched a safety audit of Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority, especially regarding the licensing of cockpit crew. The UN also cautioned its staff against flying with PIA early in 2021.

Pakistan International airlines PIA
The bans have been in effect since July 2020. Their listings have been delayed along with the ICAO audit, which was finally completed in December last year. Photo: Getty Images

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ICAO audit complete

The ICAO audit was initially scheduled for July 2020 but was delayed for more than a year due to the pandemic. However, it finally commenced in November 2021 and is now complete. The practicalities were concluded at the beginning of December last year.

In a letter to Pakistan’s CAA’s Director-General Khaqan Murtaza, written on January 4th, the organization stated that the validation committee was satisfied with how the CAA had resolved the issues raised at the beginning of the audit.

The late but successful conclusion of the audit means that Pakistan’s CAA is now hoping to resume the issuing of pilot licenses by February this year. However, beyond that, it also means that Pakistani airlines may soon be allowed back in the airspace of the EU, the UK, and the US on a regularly scheduled basis.

Pakistan International Airlines Boeing 777
PIA has taken the brunt of the ban’s impact. Photo: Getty Images

During the ban, PIA has been allowed to operate several repatriation flights to the UK. It has also operated a number of weekly flights through ‘other means’, likely meaning codeshare agreements or using sub-contract operators. Meanwhile, Virgin Atlantic made its move on the UK to Pakistan market, with services from Manchester and London Heathrow to Islamabad and Heathrow to Lahore. With the UK one of PIA’s key international markets, the carrier was not best pleased about the new Virgin routes.