KARACHI: The United States Department of Transportation has granted permission to Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) to conduct direct flights to the US, the airline’s spokesperson Abdullah Hafeez confirmed on Thursday.
This is the first time since the inception of the national flag-carrier that it will be operating direct flights to the US.
Hafeez said before the 9/11 attacks, PIA planes did not have the capacity to fly directly to the US, which is why they had to make a stop somewhere. However, after the attacks, US authorities had refused permission for direct flights because of security reasons up until now, he added.
The permission is in response to a letter written by PIA Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Air Marshal Arshad Malik who had written to the US Department of Transport for permission to operate direct flights to repatriate stranded citizens. In addition to it, the national flag-carrier will also transport free of charge the bodies of those who died away from home.
According to a communique by the US Department of Transportation, PIA will be allowed to operate 12 round-trip or one-way passenger or cargo flights. The permission will expire on April 29, 2021.
PIA will be bound to inform the transportation department, in writing, of the route it took for any passenger or cargo chartered flights no less than five business days after the operation.
The US has allowed two aircraft to enter its airspace including Boeing B777-240LR and B777-240LR.
For any passenger flight, which is headed to the US from a destination outside Pakistan, PIA will have to inform, in writing, the transportation department of the route it is taking three business days before the operation. If the airline chooses to operate or change the route of a flight less than three business days before its planned departure, it can request the department to waive off the requirement “upon a showing of good cause”.
In case a PIA flight is headed to the US from an airport outside Pakistan, it must obtain a security clearance from the Transportation Security Administration. Furthermore, the aircraft flying to the US must have the authorisation document issued by the transportation wing.
Apart from the above conditions, PIA must also comply with the rules and regulations set by other concerned US departments, including the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), as well as the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s (ICAO) standards.
The airline must also comply with all “US government requirements concerning security”.
Owing to security concerns, the US had not allowed any direct flight that originated from a Pakistani airport into its airspace. In October 2017, the PIA discontinued its flights to the US because of rising operational costs and in a bid to cut losses it had been facing.
However, PIA officials have been trying to obtain clearance from the US and negotiations have been underway for the past two years. In March this year, a US Transportation Security Administration had arrived in Pakistan to conduct a final security inspection.