Why PIA is Operating Flights to Europe After Being Banned

Today is the first day of a six-month ban on European flights for Pakistan’s national carrier as the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) yesterday withdrew its Third Country Operator (TCO) authorisation.

A statement from the agency said this was done because of “concerns about the capability of competent authorities to ensure that Pakistani air operators are in compliance with applicable international standards at all times,” and “in view of the recent investigation reported on in the Pakistani Parliament which revealed that a large share of pilot licences issued in Pakistan are invalid.”

Despite this, a Pakistan International Airlines Boeing 777, AP-BID (c/n 33780) is currently airborne as PK785 bound for London/Heathrow from Islamabad.

Scheduled to land at 15.55pm local time, the conduction of the service raises the question of how the airline is operating in Europe beyond the implementation of a ban which came into effect at 00:00 UTC today (July 1).

Martin Needham
The ban came into effect at 00:00 UTC today (July 1) and is valid for six months. Martin Needham

In response to this question, EASA told Key.Aero that PIA has been granted “an exemption to carry out a very limited number of flights to/from Europe in the next few days.

“This is related to the need to repatriate customers who may otherwise be stranded in another country. The flights are being carried out as exemptions, with permission of the national aviation authorities,” the statement continued.

A spokesperson for the UK Civil Aviation Authority said: “EASA has approved, on humanitarian grounds, the operation of three PIA repatriation flights in European airspace over the next week, including two return flights to the UK. We have agreed with EASA that these can take place, following assurance about the safety of the individual aircraft being used and that the licences of the crew operating each of these flights have been confirmed as valid by EASA prior to departure.”

FR24
The aircraft is due to land at 3.55pm local time and will return to Islamabad today. Flightradar24

In a post on Twitter, the airline said the return flight (PK786) would be operated “as per [the] intended schedule”. In a later statement, the carrier revealed a return service to Milan/Malpensa will also be operated as normal today.