KARACHI: Just days after grounding private airline Air Indus over safety issues, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) moved against Shaheen International Airline (SAI) on Thursday, barring Pakistan's oldest private carrier from operation four of its aircraft over similar concerns.
The country's aviation regulator took the step after one of SAI's Boeing 737 passenger aircraft broke down on the runway of Quetta International Airport earlier in the day while landing. The plane was carrying passenger from Islamabad.
"That led to a three-and-a-half-hour delay in the flight of Fly Dubai," said Pervez George, the CAA spokesperson. "We have been warning Shaheen Air for weeks to fix issues with their aircraft but they were not listening. CAA will not compromise on safety of passengers."
Read: CAA asks Shaheen Air to stop using 25-year-old aircraft after Saudi Arabia denies entry
Pakistan ha seen five aircraft crashes since 2006 in which 324 passengers and crew have been killed. None of the accidents involved either Air Indus or SAI.
CAA has also 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.
The four SAI aircraft that have been grounded include two Airbus330s, one A320 and a B737. The jets have defects ranging from a faulty fuel barometer to rusting fuselage, officials say.
Last month, the CAA delivered a severe blow to struggling Air Indus when it forced the newest private airline to suspend operations for repeatedly failing to meet safety guidelines.
Read: Paying back: Shaheen Air flies out of the red
Even though Air Indus got a legal respite in the shape of a stay order from the Sindh High court, the regulator stuck with the original decision insisting that lives of passengers are at risk.
"Shaheed was also repeatedly issued warnings. They just chose to look the other way. In the end we had no other option." said CAA's George.
SAI has 20 active aircraft, according to planespotters.net. But many of them remain on ground for want of repairs, industry officials say. "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 scepticism 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 more 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.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 17th, 2015.