Karachi, Pakistan – Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), the national flag carrier of the South Asian country, expects to restart European flight operations, suspended in 2020 over safety concerns, by March, the country’s aviation minister says.
Speaking at a press conference in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, on Thursday, Ghulam Sarwar Khan said the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) had cleared Pakistani aviation in a safety audit conducted late last year, and that PIA had applied for a resumption of European operations.
Europe’s aviation regulator, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), suspended flights operated by Pakistani carriers in 2020, following the crash of a PIA Airbus A320 in the southern city of Karachi that killed 97 passengers and triggered a subsequent government investigation into fraudulent licensing practices.
On Thursday, Aviation Minister Khan said 50 Pakistani pilots’ licences had been cancelled following the investigation, with five Pakistani Civil Aviation Authority officials fired and charged with fraud.
At least eight pilots at PIA were dismissed in connection with the investigation, he said.
“We are hoping that in February or March [PIA flight] operations in Europe will begin again,” he said.
In July 2020, an Al Jazeera investigation found widespread allegations of fraud in pilot licensing procedures in Pakistan. Several pilots also expressed concern over safety standards, with one senior pilot describing the situation as “a ticking time bomb”.
Pakistan has seen five major commercial or charter airliner crashes since 2010, killing at least 445 people.
The same period has seen numerous non-fatal aircraft accidents, including mid-flight engine shutdowns, landing gear failures, runway overruns and at least one on-the-ground collision, official reports show.
Thursday’s announcement came a day after the ICAO gave Pakistan’s civil aviation regulator the all-clear on resolving significant safety concerns, after an audit team visited the country late in 2021.
Khan said Pakistan was overhauling its pilot certification process, signing an agreement with United Kingdom civil aviation authorities for pilots to be certified and tested in conjunction with that agency.
Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim.