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PIA in spot after EU ban

Karachi, Feb. 24 (Reuters): Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) is considering leasing passenger planes and crew due to a looming EU ban on more than three-quarters of its ageing fleet over safety concerns, PIA officials said.

The state-run airline was warned last year that most of its planes failed to meet international standards, and yesterday an EU source revealed that all but seven of PIA's 42 planes would be barred from landing in the EU.

The EU source in Brussels said the European Commission's decision was likely to take effect in about nine days.

A PIA statement said the airline was unaware of any expected ban, though officials, who requested anonymity, said Pakistan's embassy in Brussels had informed the airline of the impending ban.

Technical fitness of aircraft, airworthiness and other cabin specific issues were discussed in three days of talks between PIA and EU air safety officials that ended yesterday, PIA said.

“They appreciated PIA's efforts towards maximisation of its aircraft, excellent maintenance standards and airworthiness,” the statement said. “Necessary refurbishment of PIA's old aircraft is in the pipeline as per EU standards,” it added.

Today a senior PIA official described the EU decision as “a surprise”, but said steps would be taken to keep services to Europe running.

PIA's seven new Boeing 777s have not been banned and will be used to the maximum on the European sector, and the airline is also considering leasing. “We can acquire new aircraft on wet lease similar to what we do every year for our Haj (pilgrimage) operations,” said the official.

PIA faces a flood of demand every year from Muslims making the pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. Wet leasing is the term given to leasing the plane plus cockpit and cabin crew. PIA operates 16 flights a week to eight countries out of 27 in the EU bloc. Its most profitable routes were to West Asia and Britain. Another PIA official said the airline had expected its Airbus A-310 and Boeing 747-300 aircraft to have escaped the ban, and the decisions had come as a shock.

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