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Govt bows to EU pressure | The Express Tribune




The government’s recent decision to amend aviation laws has come as a direct response to the European Union’s demand to rectify past deficiencies leading to the suspension of flight operations to Europe and other destinations in the wake of the fake pilot license scandal of 2020, it emerged on Saturday.

Sources in the ruling alliance revealed that the government bowed to the EU’s pressure and decided to enact two laws – the Pakistan Civil Aviation Act, 2023, and the Pakistan Airports Authority Act, 2023 – so that the skies may soon see a return of the national flag carrier flights to Europe and beyond.

Insiders revealed that the National Assembly’s swift passage of aviation bills was at the EU’s behest as the government was eager to reconnect and resume flight operations to Europe, the UK, the US and other nations.

The PIA’s wings were clipped in 2020 after the European Union’s Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) revoked the Pakistan International Airline’s authorisation to fly to the bloc in 2020 following a fake pilot license scandal. The issue resulted in the grounding of 262 of Pakistan’s 860 pilots.

The PIA had landed in hot water in the wake of its flight PK8303 crashing in Karachi on May 22, 2020, and the subsequent announcement by the then Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan of the grounding of 262 airline pilots suspected of dodging their exams and obtaining fake licenses.

On Friday, the incumbent federal minister for aviation, Khawaja Saad Rafique, said the PIA was likely to resume flights to Britain in the next three months. The minister apprised the National Assembly that new legislation this week had removed the final hurdle for PIA to fly to the United Kingdom.

Without giving any details about the legislation or why it was required to resume the flights, Rafique had said that the resumption of services to Britain did not include other European destinations but added that “God willing, the PIA flights will resume at least to the UK in three months, and later, flights to Europe and America will resume.”

The statements of objects and reasons of both the bills were almost identical as only the names of the bills differed, while the rest of the text was the same.

The bill

Considering the sensitivity of operations and involvement of strategic asset i.e. airspace, the statements read, the role of Civil Aviation in Pakistan shall be bifurcated into two entities: one responsible for regulations of civil aviation activities in Pakistan; whereas, the other shall be responsible for provision of civil aviation services and development of aviation infrastructure in Pakistan.

The statements added that the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) shall be entrusted with regulatory functions; whereas, the Pakistan Airports Authority (PAA) shall be entrusted with commercial and operational aspects of airports.

They maintain that the existing institutional arrangement and legal instruments envisage regulatory as well as service provider roles being performed by a single entity which is tantamount to infringement upon the regulatory functions being performed by the regulatory authority.

To improve services, enhance efficiency at airports and comply with the Standard and Recommended Practices (SARPs) of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), they continued, an institutional arrangement is needed to create separate authorities for civil aviation regulations and services provision.

Thus, they concluded, the Pakistan Civil Aviation Bill, 2023, and The Pakistan Airports Authority Bill, 2023 envisage the establishment of a separate civil aviation regulatory body.

The civil aviation bill states that the act shall apply to all airports in Pakistan and the persons employed at – or persons entering into – or in relation to the operation of, or provision of one or more aviation services at such airports;

However, it adds, nothing in the act shall apply to “an airport owned by, or operated, or kept for the exclusive use of any of the armed forces of Pakistan and persons employed at or in relation to such airport.” Though the act would not apply to the armed forces of Pakistan, it states that the vice chief of air staff of the Pakistan Air Force would be a member of the board, among others.

Under the functions and powers, it is stated that the authority shall control and regulate civil aviation and the provision of aviation services, and take measures as necessary or incidental to the safe, secure and orderly growth of civil aviation in Pakistan. It adds that the “Authority shall be the appropriate authority responsible for coordination with the ICAO on behalf of Pakistan for the purpose of this Act.”

Section 34 (exemption from taxes) states that “Notwithstanding anything contained in the Income Tax Act, 2001 (XLIX of 2001) or any other law relating to income tax, super tax, sales tax on services or property tax, the Authority shall be exempted from paying any such tax on its income, services, profits or gains or property.”

Section 35 (no person to operate an aircraft etc. without a valid aviation document) states that no person shall operate an airport, aircraft or air service, provide any aviation service or do any other thing for which he is required to obtain and hold a valid aviation document under the Act, rules or regulations.

Section 37 makes it mandatory to satisfy the fit and proper person test to hold privileges. Section 39 (powers of the Director General to take examinations etc.) says that for the purpose of granting or renewing an aviation document, or to determine as if the holder continues to be a fit and proper person to hold it, the director general may set, conduct, and administer such examination or test including a test to assess applicant’s knowledge, competency, skill, experience and aptitude in relation to the nature and requirements of the document as he considers to be necessary or convenient.

Under section 47 (requirement to have aircraft registered), no aircraft shall fly, from to, within, or over Pakistan unless it is registered in Pakistan, a contracting State of the ICAO or any other state this is party to an agreement with Pakistan providing for each other’s acceptance of registration of aircraft.

Section 51 (aircraft to have a certificate of airworthiness) states that an aircraft registered in Pakistan shall not fly in or over Pakistan, unless there is, relating to that aircraft, a current certificate of airworthiness, duly issued or validated by the Director General.

Under Section 81 (National Civil Aviation Security Policy and Programme), it is stated that as soon as may be, but no later than 180 days of the coming into force of this Act, the Secretary shall draw a national aviation security policy; the director general shall draw a programme for bringing the policy into effect. It adds that the policy and programme shall be consistent with Pakistan’s obligations under the convention; and shall respectively be approved by the federal government and the minister.

The next section says that there shall be a National Civil Aviation Security Committee to advise on the national civil aviation security policy; review, recommend and implement measures for the effectiveness of aviation security measures and procedures; and provide for the coordination and diligent implementation of the national civil aviation security program.

Section 102 gives the power to seize, detain, or destroy an unmanned aircraft.
Section 121 defines the penalty for failure to comply with directions for control of the height etc. of buildings etc., saying it shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with a fine which may extend to one million rupees.

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