One step closer to direct flights to the USA: Transportation Security Administration visits Pakistan on the request of PIA
PIA started its US operations in 1961s as a pioneer Asian airline to operate to US Mainland and was the first in the region
Officials from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the U.S. Government agency that oversees airport and air carrier security, are in Islamabad to assess the preparedness of PIA and Airport Authorities, for permits for PIA to commence operations to the United States.
As a test scenario, a six-member team checked PK701 Islamabad to Manchester on March 11, 2020, and monitored all aspects of flight dispatch. They observed the check-in system and workings of an additional layer of security deployed by PIA through a special Task Force.
They witnessed the search methodology deployed by PIA Security and Airport Security Forces, aircraft access, baggage, cargo and catering loading onto the aircraft. Yesterday they assessed the Cargo, Catering and Handling Services facilities and their procedures.
PIA started its US operations in 1961s as a pioneer Asian airline to operate to US Mainland and was the first in the region. PIA had been operating to New York, Chicago and Houston through B747s Jumbo Jets. However, as the aircraft range restrictions did not allow direct flights and used to make stopovers in Europe.
Flights were discontinued as they were not ‘feasible’:
In the early 2000s, PIA acquired B777 Long Range aircrafts capable of direct flights, however, post 9/11 scenarios, restrictions were imposed on the country and PIA’s USA operations required an intermediate TSA cleared stopover. However, with the stopover and incremental costs involved therein, the flight economics were not feasible, and PIA had to temporarily suspend the route in October 2017.
PIA management under the supervision of Air Marshal Arshad Malik had been making considerable efforts to seek permissions for the direct operations between Pakistan and USA. The initiatives started with a meeting between the PIA team and US Consul General in Karachi who visited PIA Head Office in April 2019, where a formal request was put forth by the Air Marshal for TSA check and clearance.
Subsequent meetings on the preparedness and assurances were held in Washington DC between the US Under Secretary of Transport, TSA Team and PIA Team led by CEO PIA. Based on the outcomes of the meeting, a strict security protocol was set in place whereby PIA redefined its Security Operational Procedures as per TSA Standards, conducted training and implementation of those protocols, and conducted IT standards modifications for greater integration between PIA & TSA systems.
Final assessment to be conducted:
Inside sources reveal that the visit is progressing well and there is overall satisfaction amongst the team from the initial assessment. However, a final assessment will be conducted after detailed deliberations by TSA in two months time. PIA has plans to launch the flight after Ramazan to cater to the holiday’s traffic.
If TSA approves PIA’s request, it will be a great feat for PIA and the nation, as it will enable direct flights between the two countries for the first time in its history. The credit for this must go to CEO PIA, who’s initiative and leadership is delivering on a promise that the management of PIA made to the nation.
The TSA Visit is conducted by PIA’s Head of Security & Vigilance Air Commodore Shahid Qadir, who has been designated as the team leader on the subject and is duly supported by Airport Security Force and Civil Aviation Authority.
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