ISLAMABAD — The European Union's aviation safety agency said Tuesday that Pakistan’s national airline will not be allowed to fly into Europe for at least six months after the country’s aviation minister revealed that nearly a third of Pakistani pilots had cheated on their pilot’s exams.
Pakistan International Airlines spokesman Abdullah Hafeez said PIA has not been flying to Europe because of the pandemic. But the airline had hoped to resume its flights to Oslo, Copenhagen, Paris, Barcelona and Milan within the next two months.
“It is hurting us really bad,” he said of the pilots scandal.
An inquiry into a May 22 Airbus A320 crash that killed 97 people at the southern port city of Karachi resulted in the stunning revelation that 260 of 860 pilots in Pakistan had cheated on their pilots exams, but were still given licences by the Civil Aviation Authority.
The government has since fired five officials of the regulatory agency and criminal charges are being considered.
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency “is concerned about the validity of the Pakistani pilot licenses and that Pakistan, as the State of operator, is currently not capable to certify and oversee its operators and aircraft in accordance with applicable international standards,” the organization said in its letter announcing the ban.
PIA has grounded 150 pilots for cheating.
But Hafeez told The Associated Press in a phone interview Tuesday that PIA had alerted the Civil Aviation Authority, the Pakistani regulatory body that issues pilots licences, of its concerns over some of the licenses. In 2019, PIA grounded 17 pilots over concerns about their licences after one of its aircraft skidded off the runway in northern Pakistan.
“The saddest part for PIA is that we had alerted the regulatory agency and the government,” Hafeez said.
He said the national airline will have a difficult time regaining its reputation and said that more than a decade ago PIA was considered one of the better airlines.
Aviation experts fear the ban by the European Union could affect PIA flights to the United Kingdom and Canada because its aircraft will not be able to fly over Europe forcing longer routes.
“We have really hit rock bottom I am so sad to say,” said Hafeez.
Jawad reported from Karachi, Pakistan. Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates contributed.
Kathy Gannon And Adil Jawad, The Associated Press