Islamabad: Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) is likely to file an appeal with the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) on Thursday against the suspension of its flight operations to and from EU member countries for six months, according to a media report on Monday.

The EU’s decision to suspend PIA flight operations was enforced on July 1 in the wake of a major pilot licences scandal in Pakistan.

The scandal over pilot licences emerged from an investigation into the crash of a PIA plane on May 22 in Karachi that killed 97 people. The inquiry determined that nearly one-third of Pakistan’s pilots cheated on exams but still received licences from the country’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). The CAA was tasked by the Supreme Court on July 21 to immediately complete an inquiry against pilots of the national carrier, following revelation by Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan about fake documents of scores of pilots.

Following the probe, 262 pilots were grounded after their flying licences were found to be “dubious”.

According to the Dawn newspaper, the appeal has been prepared by the PIA and the authorities concerned and it will be presented to the Aviation Division before lodging it with the EASA.

After the pilot licences scandal came to light and the EASA suspended authorisation of PIA flights to and from the EU member countries, the agency asked the Pakistani authorities to clarify 11 points safety management system (SMS) being the most important one, the report said quoting sources.

The EASA also asked as to how the Pakistan’s CAA had been functioning, how it issued commercial pilot licences to applicants and how the candidates solved their examination papers.

The EASA also asked about the number of aircraft being operated by the national flag carrier and how the airline maintained safety measures. The appeal to be lodged with the EASA also contained details of major airplane crashes that occurred in Pakistan over the past five years and the safety measures taken by the authorities to prevent such incidents in future, the report said.

The EASA has demanded implementation of the safety management system in the PIA which is acquiring the best system in the world. The PIA is also planning to add eight to 10 aircraft to its fleet or replace old planes with better and new ones.

The PIA has also been preparing a comprehensive business plan in consultation with international consultants, but it has been temporarily stopped due to the ongoing crisis in the aviation industry which has been badly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Before the EASA suspended the PIA flights on July 1, the airline was given an opportunity to voice its opinion on the agency’s intentions to suspend the authorisation. The PIA provided its opinion, but it was declared insufficient by the EASA, the report said.

Following the Karachi plane crash and the initial findings laid down in the preliminary inquiry report showing successive breaches of multiple layers of safety defences in the safety management system, the EASA had expressed concern over the PIA’s safety management system which, it said, was not achieving its primary objective.

The scandal had also prompted the US to downgrade the safety rating of Pakistan’s aviation system and block the country’s airlines from launching air services to America.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in July put Pakistan in category-2 rating, which means airlines from Pakistan can’t start new flights to the US. Also, US airlines can’t sell seats on Pakistani flights, a practice called code-sharing that is common among other international airlines. Currently there are no regular scheduled flights between the US and Pakistan.-PTI