KARACHI: A dispute over payment of arrears totalling over Rs1.5 billion between the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and Shaheen Air International (SAI) took a serious turn on Wednesday when the CAA ordered suspension of the airline’s domestic operations, it is learnt reliably.

The airline’s international operations — except Haj flights — had already been suspended several days ago by the CAA, owing to the non-payment of arrears.

Confusion prevailed over the airline’s operations as CAA spokesperson Pervez George said the SAI domestic operations were being suspended from Wednesday, while SAI representative Zoheb Hassan maintained that flights of the airline were being operated as per normal schedule.

Responding to Dawn queries, Mr George said that despite repeated requests and even an order of the Sindh High Court, the SAI did not pay arrears as per agreement earlier. Therefore, he said, the authority was left with no choice but to suspend all operations of the airline.

He said that the SAI could operate its flights from Saudi Arabia and domestic flights from Quetta, Multan and Karachi only to ferry Hajis from the destinations. All other operations of the airline were being suspended, the CAA spokesman maintained.

He said that even the licence of the SAI had expired, but the CAA — considering that the airline’s Haj operations did not suffer and the Hajis were not affected — had extended the licence for one month.

The spokesman pointed out that earlier the SAI’s international operations had been suspended but all domestic operations of the airline were suspended as well.

He said that a few days back when passengers were stranded in China owing to the suspension of SAI flight operations, the CAA had allowed them to operate one flight to bring the passengers back home.

However, responding to Dawn queries, SAI representative Zoheb Hassan said that airline flights were being operated normally. He said the Karachi-Lahore flight had also been operated as per schedule on Wednesday.

All flights on Thursday would also be operated as per schedule, he claimed.

The SAI representative said that he had not received any directive from the CAA that its operations were being suspended from Wednesday.

He said that as the airline had been making payments of the arrears to the CAA as per timetable, there was no controversy.

Last month owing to non-payment of the Rs1.5 billion arrears by the airline, the aviation authority ordered that its international operations would be suspended. The SAI moved the Sindh High Court against the CAA directive and the court ordered that the authority should not suspend the airline’s operations if it made the payments as per an agreed timetable.

Published in Dawn, August 2nd, 2018