Owners of Shaheen Air International flee abroad

Published December 7, 2018
Shaheen Air International owes Rs1.36bn to CAA. — File photo
Shaheen Air International owes Rs1.36bn to CAA. — File photo

LAHORE: The owners of Shaheen Air International have fled the country despite a request by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to the interior ministry to place their names on the Exit Control List (ECL).

SAI’s domestic and international operations have been suspended since October as its 2,800 employees are seeking payment of their salaries for the past few months. They had held demonstrations in major cities.

“We had written to the interior ministry in September last to immediately place on the ECL the names of SAI Chairman Kashif Mehmud Sehbai and Chief Executive Officer Ehsan Khalid Sehbai as they may flee Pakistan. However, our request was not entertained by the authorities concerned and both owners of the SAI managed to leave the country,” an official of the CAA told Dawn on Thursday. He said the CAA had suspended SAI’s flight operations owing to non-payment of its dues of Rs1.36 billion.

“We have moved the court against the airline for the recovery of the dues,” the official said, adding that had the SAI owners been in the country, it would have been easy for the authorities concerned to recover dues and outstanding salaries from them. The CAA, he said, had also requested the Federal Investigation Agency to initiate action against the airline.

SAI owes Rs1.36bn to CAA and dues to its 2,800 employees

In reply to a question about some eight planes of the SAI that had been in CAA possession, the official said: “No, these planes are grounded for their poor condition and the CAA will charge the SAI for using its parking.”

SAI’s acting CEO Javed Sehbai told Dawn that the airline was ready to clear its liability provided the CAA allowed it to resume its operations forthwith. “We have not said we will not clear our liability. The SAI owners had gone abroad to arrange funds for the purpose. We request the CAA to let us resume the SAI flight operations so that we could pay (outstanding) salaries to the staff,” he added.

When asked about the SAI’s efforts to inject foreign investment, he said it could not be managed because of the ‘panic’ created in the market about the airline.

A senior SAI pilot told Dawn that 2,800 employees of the airline had not been paid their salaries for the past five months which was a gross violation of human rights and labour laws. “The aviation industry in Pakistan is already in crisis and around 3,000 airlines staff from ground men to pilots have been rendered jobless,” he added.

The pilot further said the elements in the SAI management were selling off their leftover moveable assets which could otherwise be used to clear the salaries of its employees. “We request the Chief Justice of Pakistan to take notice of this,” he urged.

Another SAI employee said the airline’s local and foreign liability was close to Rs18bn. “The government should have taken stock of the situation when the foreign companies that had provided aircraft to SAI on dry lease started pulling out for non-payment earlier this year.”

The employee, who has been associated with Shaheen Air for a decade, further said the airline did good business during the last decade — 2006-16 — especially on Gulf routes. “Its decline started during the last couple of years because of some bad decisions by the management,” he said.

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2018

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