Pakistan International Airlines is still waiting for European regulators to restore its third-country operator approval, although the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority is progressing with safety-oversight improvements.

While the European Commission imposed partial blacklist restrictions on PIA in early 2007, these were rescinded at the end of the same year.

But PIA had its third-country operator approval withdrawn by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency in mid-2020, over concerns about its safety-management system.

According to EASA documentation dated 2 June, PIA’s third-country operator approval has yet to be restored.

EASA took the action after a fatal accident in Karachi involving a PIA Airbus A320 and the revelation, around the same time, that a large number of pilot licences issued by Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority had been fraudulently obtained.

Representatives of the Commission and EASA conducted an on-site assessment at the end of November last year, which primarily covered the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority but also took in sample assessments of Pakistani carriers Airblue and Fly Jinnah.

PIA 777-c-Konstantin von Wedelstaedt Creative Commons

Source: Konstantin von Wedelstaedt/Creative Commons

PIA had its third-country operator approval withdrawn by EASA in mid-2020

“It was found that [the PCAA] has an established policy to adhere to international safety standards, and is staffed by technically skilled and professional persons,” says the Commission in a 30 May blacklist revision.

But it says “common shortcomings”, such as lack of internal verifications, were noticed “throughout the organisation”.

“With regard to PCAA’s safety oversight functions, a noticeable lack of depth of scrutiny was observed,” it adds – with findings being closed based on proposed corrective actions, rather than actual evidence.

Implementation of a safety-management system, including root-cause identification, was “at the early stages and needs improvement”, the Commission found, and the flight-standards directorate was “severely understaffed”.

But the visit revealed no particular concerns in the airworthiness or personnel licensing and training divisions, nor did it turn up significant problems at the two airlines.

The PCAA subsequently attended a hearing before the European air safety committee on 14 May.

According to the Commission the PCAA addressed each observation from the report of the November 2023 visit, pointing out the root-cause analysis behind the corrective measures taken or planned.

“Of particular note was the effort made by PCAA to address the identified shortcomings of its safety oversight capacity and capability,” it adds, highlighting the increase in qualified flight-standards inspectors.

The authority has also taken steps to improve its regulatory framework, organisational structure and quality management, and although the safety-management system development has been “slow”, the Commission says it is “progressing”.

“Both the regulator and the regulated entities understand the importance of gradually transitioning from a compliance-based safety oversight approach to a risk-based approach,” it adds.

European safety regulators are to continue monitoring the situation in Pakistan through regular technical meetings and progress reporting from the PCAA, which could involve inviting the authority to further hearings.