MIAMI – Airlines based in Pakistan, including Pakistan International Airlines (PK) could be facing a nearly worldwide ban from 188 countries after failing to meet Pilot licensing standards outlined by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

The Pakistani flag carrier has been at the center of a massive Pilot licensing scandal resulting in bans across the US and UK. In August, Pakistani Minister of Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan announced that 141 pilots employed by PK had fake credentials.

However, the effects of this scandal are not limited to PK. Airblue (PA) and SereneAir (ER) are also affected by this announcement. Prior to the scandal, there were 860 active pilots in Pakistan.

It is important to note that ICAO has no legal power to apply any “ban.” Aviation regulation and operational oversight are wholly and exclusively a sovereign responsibility and entitlement of each State.

PIA Boeing 777-300ER. PHOTO: Konstantin von Wedelstaedt/Wikimedia

The Pakistani Pilot Licensing Scandal and PK: A Timeline

On May 22, 2020, PK8303 crashed on approach to Jinnah International Airport (KHI), proving fatal for 97 of the 99 passengers on board. In the wake of the accident, an ICAO reported uncovered a “serious lapse in licensing and safety oversight by the aviation regulator”. PK claimed the licenses “were issued by the competent authority and are valid as per their records.”

In Late June, PK grounded over a quarter of its Pilots on suspicion of having “bogus” licenses. Just a week later, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) announced a six-month ban for PK in European airspace, removing the carrier’s third-party authorization. The US followed suit later than month, by downgrading PIA’s safety rating. As a result, the airline was no longer allowed to set up new service or operate codeshares.

PIA later announced that it had terminated eight crew members after their licenses had been revoked by the Pakistani aviation authority.

PIA operates 12 aircraft in the Boeing 777 family. PHOTO: Aleem Yousaf/Wikimedia

What’s Next for PK?

While ICAO cannot ban any airline operations per se, its analysis on the matter could be conducive to 188 countries halting flights PK in what could prove a crushing blow for the middle-eastern carrier. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, PK announced losses of over RS31.9b (US$429.3m) in 2020 YTD.

“This will have serious consequences and could be a total disaster for Pakistan’s aviation industry”, said a spokesperson for the Pakistan Airline Pilots Association (PALPA). “Palpa had forwarded several options to revamp the system in accordance with the international practices”.

Pakistani airlines, including PIA, may be left to fly domestic-only routes if a ban from different states occurs. Prior to the ban initiated after a report from EASA, PK operated routes to 23 international destinations including Paris, Barcelona, and Munich.

Featured Image: PIA Boeing 777-200ER PHOTO: Anna Zvereva/Wikimedia