The European Union’s aviation safety agency said Tuesday that Pakistan’s national airline will not be allowed to fly into Europe for at least six months after the country’s aviation minister revealed last week that nearly a third of Pakistani pilots had cheated on their exams. Pakistan International Airlines spokesman Abdullah Hafeez said PIA has not been flying to Europe because of the pandemic. But the airline had hoped to resume its flights to Oslo, Copenhagen, Paris, Barcelona and Milan within the next two months. “It is hurting us really bad,” he said of the pilots scandal. An inquiry into the May 22 Airbus A320 crash that killed 97 people in Karachi resulted in the stunning revelation that 260 of 860 pilots in Pakistan had cheated on their exams, but were still given licences by the Civil Aviation Authority. The government has since fired five officials of the regulatory agency and criminal charges are being considered.“The European Union Aviation Safety Agency is concerned about the validity of the Pakistani pilot licenses and that Pakistan, as the State of operator, is currently not capable to certify and oversee its operators and aircraft in accordance with applicable international standards,” the organization said in its letter announcing the ban. “EASA has temporarily suspended PIA’s authorisation to operate to the EU member states for a period of 6 months effective July 1, 2020, with the right to appeal against this decision,” the PIA said in a statement. “PIA is in contact with EASA to allay their concerns and to take necessary corrective measures along with filing the appeal against the decision,” it added.PIA has grounded 150 of its pilots for cheating. But Hafeez said that PIA had alerted the Civil Aviation Authority of its concerns over some of the licenses. In 2019, PIA grounded 17 pilots over concerns about their licences after one of its aircraft skidded off the runway in northern Pakistan. “The saddest part for PIA is that we had alerted the regulatory agency and the government,” he said, adding that the national airline will have a difficult time regaining its reputation and said that more than a decade ago PIA was considered one of the better airlines. Aviation experts fear the ban by the European Union could also affect PIA flights to the United Kingdom and Canada because its aircraft will not be able to fly over Europe forcing longer routes. “We have really hit rock bottom I am so sad to say,” said Hafeez.Following the EASA move, the UK Civil Aviation Agency also suspended PIA flight operations from three airports – Birmingham, London and Manchester. “Following the decision on 30 June 2020, by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to suspend permission for Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) to operate services to the European Union, PIA flights from Birmingham, London Heathrow and Manchester airports are suspended with immediate effect,” according to a spokesperson for the authority. “The UK Civil Aviation Authority is required under law to withdraw PIA’s permit to operate to the UK pending EASA’s restoration of their approval that it meets international air safety standards,” it added.Separately, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) has been moved to stop Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar from performing his duties. The petitioner has taken the plea that the federal minister has charged 262 pilots with having fake licenses without any inquiry. The petitioner prayed the court to issue order for removing Ghulam Sarwar from cabinet and a judicial commission be constituted to hold comprehensive inquiry into the matter. The court has been requested to disqualify Ghulam Sarwar Khan from National Assembly seat. In the petition, prime minister, National Assembly speaker, Ghulam Sarwar Khan and Civil Aviation Authority have been made respondents through principal secretary and federation through secretary aviation.