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KARACHI: Over 200 returning pilgrims had to suffer in Saudi Arabia owing to an ‘unexpected’ suspension of Shaheen Air International’s (SAI) Haj operation by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) on Friday, it is learnt here reliably.

However, a day later on Saturday, the CAA allowed the airline to resume its Haj operation and bring back Hajis stranded in Saudi Arabia.

Responding to Dawn queries, CAA spokesperson Pervez George said that the airline’s licence — Regular Public Transport (RPT) — had expired on Aug 30, but the authority had asked the SAI to pay its arrears so that the licence could be extended. Since the airline did not pay arrears, its flight operation was suspended and no flight was allowed to operate on Friday, he said.

However, he added, its licence was extended for 30 days on Saturday (till Sept 30) keeping in view the hardships the Hajis were facing in Saudi Arabia owing to suspension of flights.

The CAA spokesperson did not offer any comment on why despite the authority’s repeated announcements in the past that SAI’s Haj flights would not be suspended, the operation was disrupted on Friday.

Speaking to Dawn, SAI representative Hasan Minhaj confirmed that the airline’s licence had been extended on Saturday afternoon and an aircraft had departed for Saudi Arabia in the evening.

He said that the SAI’s post-Haj flights operation had started on Monday but was suspended on Friday even though the authority had previously mentioned that it would not suspend Haj flights.

Mr Minhaj said that over 200 Hajis had to face hardship over the weekend in Saudi Arabia owing to the ‘unexpected’ CAA action against SAI, adding that many more would suffer as subsequent flights would also be delayed since it was difficult to get landing time slots at Saudi Arabian airports during the Haj season.

Last month, owing to the suspension of SAI’s flight operations over 200 passengers had been stranded for over a week at a Chinese airport and were brought back only after the Supreme Court intervened and ordered their immediate repatriation. The court had also ordered payment of compensation to the passengers.

The airline official said that the Hajis who suffered in Saudi Arabia should also be given payment as compensation.

Published in Dawn, September 2nd, 2018