Regulators have barred Pakistan International Airlines from the European Union for six months after the state-run carrier grounded nearly a third of its pilots for holding fake or dubious licences, officials said Tuesday.

The EU Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) told PIA "it is still not sure" if all the remaining pilots are properly qualified, and "they have lost their confidence" in the airline, PIA spokesman Abdullah Khan told AFP.

The suspension is the latest fallout for PIA after Pakistan's aviation minister told parliament last week that a government review had found 262 of the country's 860 active pilots hold fake licences or cheated on exams.

More than half of them were from PIA, and the airline said it would immediately ground 141 of its 434 pilots.

The EASA said it had suspended PIA and a smaller private Pakistan airline "in view of the recent investigation reported on in the Pakistani Parliament which revealed that a large share of pilot licenses issued in Pakistan are invalid".

PIA is filing an appeal, Khan said.

The airline has only flown limited international flights for months as a result of the coronavirus. A resumption of domestic operations last month was followed by a crash blamed on pilot error that killed 98 people.

PIA had recently resumed bookings for five European capital cities, including Paris, Milan and Barcelona.

Flights to Britain, which is no longer in the EU, have also been suspended, Khan said.

The EASA said it suspended PIA "due to concerns about the capability of competent authorities to ensure that Pakistani air operators are in compliance with applicable international standards at all times".

Chaudhry Manzoor Ahmed, a senior figure in the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party, said PIA's woes had "put the country's reputation at stake".

"The decision of the European Union is the result of successive follies of incompetent rulers," Ahmed said in a statement. 

- Reforms 'inevitable' -

Prime Minister Imran Khan told parliament he would reform PIA and other government institutions.

"I want to tell my nation: We have no other option, reforms are inevitable," he said Tuesday.

Aviation minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan has promised that a restructuring of PIA would be completed by the end of the year.

On May 22, a PIA flight crashed into houses in Karachi, killing 97 people aboard the plane and a child on the ground.

Investigators blamed the pilots, who were chatting about the coronavirus while they first attempted to land the Airbus A320 without putting its wheels down.

Until the 1970s, Pakistan's largest airline was considered a top regional carrier but its reputation plummeted amid chronic mismanagement, frequent cancellations and financial struggles.

PIA, which is helmed by a serving air force officer, currently has a fleet of 31 planes and a payroll of about 14,500 workers. 

The high staff-to-plane ratio has seen long-standing accusations the government and the military use the airline to dish out jobs to cronies and retired military officers.

Even before the coronavirus, PIA was in a financial mess, and the EU suspension will only make things worse. 

The airline racked up $340 million in losses last year, compared to $266 million in 2018.

 

                

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