KARACHI: When a Boeing 737 flying from Islamabad laden with passengers broke down on the Quetta International Airport runway as it came in for a landing on Thursday, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) was prompted into grounding four aircraft of the offending operator, Shaheen Air International (SAI).
The move comes just weeks after the authority had suspended another private carrier, Air Indus, for disregarding safety guidelines.
Read: CAA grounds Air Indus over safety concerns
"That (breakdown) caused a three and a half hour delay for the flight of Fly Dubai," said CAA spokesperson Pervez George.
"We have been warning Shaheen Air for weeks to fix issues with their aircraft but they were not listening,” he said adding that “CAA will not compromise on safety of passengers."
Pakistan’s oldest private air carrier, the CAA grounded four aircraft of SAI, an Airbus A320-200, two Airbus A330-300s and a Boeing 737-400.
The jets have defects ranging from a faulty fuel barometer to rusting fuselage, officials said.
Since 2006, Pakistan has seen five aircraft crashes in which 324 passengers and crew have been killed. However, none of the accidents involved either Air Indus or SAI, though at least two other private carriers, AirBlue and Bhoja Air were involved.
CAA has often come under criticism for going easy on cash-strapped domestic airlines even as passengers routinely complain of flight delays due to last-minute technical glitches in the aircraft.
But last month, the CAA had delivered a severe blow to struggling newcomer Air Indus when it forced the private airline to suspend its operations for repeatedly failing to meet safety guidelines.
Read: Court grants Air Indus new lease of life
Even though Air Indus got legal respite in the shape of a stay order from the Sindh High Court, the regulator has stuck with its initial decision, insisting that lives of passengers are at risk.
"Shaheen was also repeatedly issued warnings. They just chose to look the other way. In the end we had no other option," explained.
SAI is one of the biggest private carriers in the country with 20 active aircraft in its fleet, according to planespotters.net. But many of these aircraft remain on ground for want of repairs, industry officials claimed.
"Financial issues have marred all our domestic airlines," said an official.
However, some people in the industry will view the latest drive of CAA with some skepticism as it comes at a time when gulf carriers have been allowed almost free reign over Pakistani airspace.
"These foreign airlines have been given permission to fly to even remote cities like Turbat and Gwadar. That’s going to kill all the domestic airlines pretty soon," said an official of one of the domestic airlines.
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