LAHORE/KARACHI: Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has decided to operate a special flight to bring back more than 300 Pakistanis stranded in China's Guangzhou city, sources informed.
As many as 300 Pakistanis were left stranded in the Chinese port city of Guangzhou after their Shaheen Air flight was abruptly cancelled on July 29, following a dispute over payment of arrears totalling over Rs1.5 billion between the airline and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
The airline’s international operations — except Hajj flights — were suspended several days ago by the CAA owing to the mounting debt.
The stranded citizens continue to face immense difficulties amid blame game between the Civil Aviation Authority and Shaheen Air. A few of them have also reportedly fallen sick as they continue to await their return home for past six days.
However, the national flag-carrier has now decided to reach out to stranded countrymen. The sources said that PIA CEO has directed the PIA authorities to make arrangements to bring back stranded Pakistanis from China.
A spokesperson for Shaheen Air confirmed that they have contacted the PIA for bringing back stranded passengers, adding that the decision was made at a meeting between the Shaheen Air and Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) officials.
"A request of commercial terms has been forwarded to the PIA," the spokesperson said, adding that the next course of action would be announced after a response from the PIA.
"Shaheen Air is aware of the difficulties faced by Pakistanis stranded in China and the airline is taking measures to bring them back soon," the spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, the CAA also allowed Shaheen Air to operate unlimited flights to Guangzhou, China, a CAA spokesperson confirmed Saturday evening.
The spokesperson said that Shaheen Air could operate as many flights as it wanted to bring back stranded countrymen.
Pakistani consul general meets stranded passengers
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Foreign Office of Pakistan said that Shaheen Air weekly operated two flights on Guangzhou-Lahore route, adding that 260 passengers were stranded after the cancellation of Shaheen Air flight on July 29.
With the cooperation of Pakistani consul general, 214 passengers reached home through an alternate flight, whereas 46 preferred to return via Shaheen Air's next flight, he said.
The spokesman further explained that Shaheen Air flights scheduled for August 2 and 5 were also cancelled, and now several other Pakistani passengers have been stranded, in addition to the 46 previously left in Guangzhou.
Shaheen Air provided accommodation to these passengers at a hotel in Guangzhou, he said, where they are also being provided food.
The Pakistani consul general also met with the stranded passengers, the spokesman said, adding that the accommodation provided to them was comfortable and efforts were being made that they face no difficulties.
He said the consul general was constantly in touch with the passengers, Shaheen Air and Chinese officials.
Local officials of the Chinese ministry of foreign affairs have been fully cooperating with regard to expiry of visas of some stranded passengers, the spokesman said.
He also said that Shaheen Air was making efforts for early return of stranded passengers.
Earlier today, the CAA blamed Shaheen Air for delay in return of stranded Pakistanis nationals.
"Shaheen Air has not yet submitted any application for a chartered plane," said Hassan Baig, director general of the CAA, while exclusively speaking.
He said that they were ready to take every possible measure to bring back stranded countrymen from China.
"There are reports that the Pakistani Embassy in China arranged for a chartered plane, but the airline didn't transfer funds," Baig said.
He said that hosepipe of Shaheen Air's aircraft needs to be replaced, and without that, they could not risk operating a flight using the plane.
The DG CAA further said that he was continuously in touch with Shaheen Air's chairman and seeks to resolve the issue.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Shaheen Air said that arranging a chartered plane and getting an approval from the CAA would take more time.
Earlier, the airline was granted special permission by the CAA to bring back stranded Pakistanis from China after brought to light the plight of the stranded passengers.
Many were left with nowhere to go after their visas expired, while others complained they could not afford the more expensive tickets of alternative airlines.
On Friday, Shaheen Air had announced to bring Pakistanis stranded in Guangzhou, but the flight was cancelled at the last minute.
A spokesperson for Shaheen Air had said the CAA questioned the fitness of the plane at the last minute, adding, "We have even informed relevant court regarding the issue."
Meanwhile, a CAA spokesperson had said that they had allowed Shaheen Air to operate two special flights to bring back stranded countrymen.
The spokesperson had urged Shaheen Air to send an air-worthy aircraft to China, adding that airline still had the permission to operate special flights.