KARACHI: Troubled private carrier Air Indus received a new lease of life on Wednesday after it convinced the Sindh High Court (SHC) to put aside Civil Aviation Authority's (CAA) notice suspending its operation.
The CAA had abruptly grounded the airline on Monday, citing safety and security concerns, but did not share details of any specific incidents that may have put passengers at risk.
"Court wouldn't have given us relief if there were issues with safety of passengers," said Javed Akhter, a senior official of the airline. "We will continue to operate our flights as usual."
According to Akhter, the main point of contention between Air Indus and the CAA has been last year's terrorist attack on Karachi airport in which its aircrafts were damaged.
"We had a fleet of three aircrafts and two of them were damaged. That was major blow for us as it completely threw our economies off the track. And nobody compensated us," he said.
Read: Not flying high: CAA grounds Air Indus over safety concerns
Leased aircrafts are always insured but the company that owned the planes faced delays in getting them repaired. The airline is still waiting to induct back one of Boeing 737-300, which is being repaired in Dubai.
Air Indus says it has cleared all the dues of the regulator, including parking fees despite booking losses due to shortage of aircraft.
The airline, which is backed by Karakoram Motors, is operating with two Boeing 737-300 aircrafts at the moment.
On the contrary, CAA officials maintain that no leniency will be accorded to any airline considering the crashes which have marred the industry in recent years.
"The decision to suspend its operation was taken after thorough investigation and analysis. They are putting life of passengers at risk by cutting corners," a CAA official said.
Air Indus is also leasing three Airbus 320s, and said paperwork had been submitted to the CAA for verification.
This is not the first time that the CAA has shut down an airline on grounds of safety issues. But in all previous cases, the real cause for the drastic step was financial unviability of the carrier and reluctance of sponsors to pump in more money.
Pakistan’s aviation industry has seen many prospectors trying their luck with airline business. Most of the airlines have gone bankrupt, often to the embarrassment of highflying investors.
In recent years, Rayyan Air, Vision Air and Fly Pakistan Air also applied for commercial air transport license besides Air Indus, but none of them have taken off yet.
Read: Air Indus aiming to fly into international skies
Pakistan adopted an ‘open skies’ policy in the 1990s, allowing competition on the domestic routes and giving broader access to foreign airlines.
More than 20 licences were issued to airliners but none except for Shaheen Air International has survived. Bhoja Air resurfaced under a new management a few years back but it has also been permanently grounded after a devastating air crash.
Despite a discouraging history, people in the industry say the sheer size of the country’s population is enough of a reason for investors to jump into the capital-intensive airline business.
This assertion seems to be reflecting in numbers as well. According to CAA, Air Indus carried 301,070 passengers or 8.6% of domestic passengers in the year which ended June 2014 – that was done by a new airline within a few months.