Shaheen Air International, the airline which prides itself on being the ‘second’ national carrier of Pakistan, reiterated that again during an aggressive press conference today. Among some critical underlying issues brought into public knowledge and media spotlight, was the issue of Pakistan Civil Aviation’s heavy inclination to support foreign carriers coming into Pakistan, at the expense of the country’s local airlines. ‘’If it continues like this, I guarantee you that all private airlines in Pakistan will be forced to shut down in the next three to four years’’, said the airline CCO Faisal Rafique, conducting the press conference.
‘’In 25 years, Shaheen Air is the first airline to conduct a proving flight on the staunch instructions of Civil Aviation Authority.’’ The airline representative said, questioning the intentions of the country’s aviation regulation body. He further added, ‘’We had to fly an empty plane to Manchester and back which added a whopping thirty million rupees to our costs, despite that we rebooked our passengers absolutely free of charge and flew them to Manchester, the next day’’
It was revealed that the airline has been facing cash flow issues, which has forced it to defer on its payments to the PCAA in the last seven months. The airline representative said, ‘’We accept we have been unable to process payments on time’’. Shaheen Air requested time until June to clear its dues worth four hundred and eighty million rupees, with a clearly laid out payment plan, which would take up to three weeks to complete, however the request was refused.
Another issue highlighted in the presser today, was the delay in clearance of Shaheen’s newly acquired Airbus 319 aircraft. The Civil Aviation Authority took fifteen days to clear the aircraft for mainline flying, and the airline was duly paying twenty thousand US dollars per day to the CAA for the aircraft parked. Mr Faisal Rafique also reminded the press, that the same clearance process took just three to four days in the past.
It was also revealed that PIA’s tainted German CEO, received security clearance within three months. Whereas Pakistani nationals and Shaheen’s Board of Directors’ members for the past eight to ten years, Mr.Kashif Sehbai and Mr.Ehsan Sehbai, Chairman and CEO respectively are facing issues with respect to that. On Saturday the CAA issued a letter, ordering the airline to obtain a fresh RPT (Regular Passenger Transport) license on the basis of a ‘change in their management’, within the next 45 days or face a suspension in operations. Mr Faisal also added, that the CAA has put hurdles in the way of airline’s Regular Passenger Transport license on clearance grounds for the last two years, with only granting them fifteen and thirty days long temporary renewals.
Quoting an Aviation Division letter dated for April 21st, it is worth noting that the Division has instructed the Director General Civil Aviation (DGCA) to clear Shaheen Air, and issue the RPT license. However, no development has taken place to enforce that instruction, and the latest notice issued on Saturday night, by the PCAA is contrary to the Aviation Division’s order.
It is a matter of deep concern that the troubled Pakistan International Airlines’, owes fifty-seven billion rupees to the Civil Aviation Authority, but has not faced pressure from the CAA of this magnitude. Mr Faisal Rafique was keen to make the press realise, about the opportunity cost of Pakistani tax payers money used to bail out PIA from time to time.
‘’DG CAA is requested to promote aviation in Pakistan, he is a civil servant and must cooperate with airlines, instead of waging a personal war against the owners which is fueled by ego and other vested personal interests’’, were the concluding remarks of the Chief Communications Officer who boasted of a very strong legal position throughout his address to the media.
The aviation sector is rife with rumours that points towards very close relations between the current Director General of the Civil Aviation Authority and the CEO of the newly launched Serene Air, both retired airforce officials. A faction in the industry also believes these steps taken by the Civil Aviation Authority bosses, which reek of a blatant disregard for justice and ignore the excellent track record of the airline, are deep rooted strategies to give Serene Air the edge over other airlines in Pakistan. After all if Serene can get clearance of its aircrafts in couple of days why Shaheen is treated as a foster child?
The next few days are anticipated to be tense for Shaheen Air International, an airline which supports four thousand families, and has seen a four hundred percent growth in the last four years, as the CAA ultimatum looms. It is also high time that government considers the role of PCAA because either it could act as a service provider or a regulator, it can not do both jobs at same time.