LAHORE: A three-judge Supreme Court (SC) bench, headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, on Friday ordered Malik Ehsan Sehbai, the owner of Shaheen Air International airline, to appear before the court and immediately bring back Pakistani passengers stranded in Chinese city of Guangzhou due to cancellation of the airlines’ scheduled flights.
The court took up a suo motu case pertaining to stranded Pakistani passengers at an airport in China, at the Lahore Registry on Friday. The court directed Shaheen Air to ensure bringing all passengers back by Monday, remarking that the court would ensure compensation to the stranded Pakistanis.
Following a conflict over non-payment of arrears amounting to over Rs1.5 billion by the airline, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) suspended the flight operation, leaving about 300 Pakistanis stranded in the Chinese port city of Guangzhou.
However, the regional director of Shaheen Air apprised the bench that passengers could not be brought back to Pakistan as all flights, except Saudi Airline, were cancelled on July 29 at the airport of Guangzhou.
“Tell us when you will bring back the Pakistanis stuck in China,” the CJ asked. This is an emergency, said the top judge. “We will hear the case even late at night,” he remarked. “Someone may be a daily wage labourer and someone else may have his wedding. All of them are in illegal detention there. The Supreme Court will ensure they are compensated.”
Later, legal director Shaheen Air, Abraiz Khan, presented a report to the bench, stating that negotiations were under way with different companies to charter a plane. He pointed out that the issue would be resolved in three to four days and SC would be kept informed about the progress.
Earlier, company’s director claimed that the airline was not able to bring back the passengers yet as "only Shaheen Air operates from Lahore to Guangzhou." However, Justice Ijazul Ahsan told him that “China Airlines operates a flight from Guanghzou to Islamabad daily”.
"If Shaheen Air wants to save money then that's another matter," he added. Shaheen Air's reply was also termed unsatisfactory by the chief justice. The airline official, however, told the court that the airline had been "permitted to send a flight to China".
Dissatisfied with the response from the airline official, the chief justice ordered Shaheen Air to ensure all stuck passengers are brought back to Pakistan before Monday.
The bench also instructed the Civil Aviation Authority to prepare a report on the condition of the plane sent to bring the passengers back from China, as the Authority had declared the airline's planes unsafe.
Justice Nisar told the airline to "not send any airplane that is unsafe for flying". "The plane must be sent after receiving necessary clearance from the CAA," he added. Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua told the court that only 46 passengers of the originally reported figure of 300 Pakistanis had been left in Guangzhou now.
The chief justice ordered the rest of the passengers to be brought back home immediately and told a senior airlines official to make the evacuation journey himself in order to experience what "a common passenger feels like". The court adjourned hearing till August 7.