December 12, 2016 / 8:49 AM / 8 months ago

Pakistan International Airlines grounds ATR fleet after crash

ISLAMABAD, Dec 12 (Reuters) - Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) grounded its fleet of 10 European-made ATR planes after 47 people were killed in a crash in northern Pakistan last week, the company said on Monday.

Officials say the ATR-42 aircraft suffered engine problems soon after take off from the mountainous region of Chitral but it is not clear what exactly caused the crash about 50 km (31 miles) from capital Islamabad, its final destination.

PIA said it grounded the flights after Pakistan's Civil Aviation Authority decided to conduct "shakedown tests" of PIA's entire ATR fleet.

"(PIA has) decided to keep all 10 ATR aircraft grounded till they are cleared after thorough examination," the company said in a statement.

Local media reported that a PIA flight from city of Multan to the commercial hub of Karachi was cancelled after a pilot aborted the take-off attempt on Sunday. English-language Dawn newspaper, citing the PIA spokesman, said the pilot noticed a problem in one of the engines.

ATR is a joint venture between Airbus Group and Italian aerospace company Leonardo. It competes for turboprop sales with Canada's Bombardier.

Most of the ATR planes used by PIA were for short-haul flights.

PIA, a loss-making state carrier, has been defending the ATR plane's safety record and vehemently denied media reports that there was a fault with the aircraft before the take off.

"It defies common sense that pilots and engineers would fly an aircraft that does not meet safety standards, and risk their own lives," PIA said in a statement on Friday.

Officials say the aircraft, made by ATR in 2007, had racked up 18,739 flight hours since joining PIA's fleet that year and the plane's captain, Saleh Janjua, had logged more than 12,000 flight hours over his career.

Concern is growing over air safety in Pakistan as media in recent years have reported several near-misses. (Reporting by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Gopakumar Warrier)

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