Pakistan International Airlines appears to be heading for renewed conflict with European safety authorities after regulators withdrew the carrier's maintenance approval.

The airline's engineering and maintenance division obtained the European Aviation Safety Agency Part 145 clearance in 2004, and had succeeded in retaining the certification through a number of audits.

PIA had credited the approval with enabling it to land contracts it would otherwise have lost to competitors. EASA has confirmed, however, that it "suspended" this certification on 6 March, although it has not given details of the reasons.

Signs of an emerging rift with European authorities emerged during the most recent revision to the blacklist of banned airlines. The European Commission had raised concerns over the airworthiness of PIA aircraft in September 2011, following findings during "numerous" ramp inspections during the previous year. French regulators had even forced the carrier to ferry an Airbus A310-300 back to Pakistan, empty, for remedial maintenance following one ground inspection.

PIA had been partially restricted from operating European services in 2007, restrictions which were subsequently eased before being lifted towards the end of the same year.

Last September, the Pakistani civil aviation authority informed the Commission it was taking action to address the renewed concerns over PIA's operations, and detailed a corrective plan drawn up by the carrier.

This contained 15 specific actions due to be completed by the end of 2011, and the civil aviation authority had also introduced a 13-point plan to address the safety culture at PIA and the airworthiness of its aircraft.

PIA was not included on the last blacklist revision - in November 2011 - but the Commission underlined at the time that the carrier's aircraft would face "prioritisation" during ramp inspections to establish whether the remedies were effective.

"Should these inspections reveal that PIA actions have failed to address the identified safety concerns, the Commission will have no choice but to act to contain any risks to safety," it said.

Source: Flight International