Biman's plan for route expansion hits snag

Apathy of the authority concerned, failure to lease aircraft timely cited as reasons


Kamrun Nahar | Published: April 25, 2019 10:39:21 | Updated: April 27, 2019 10:58:27


The planned route expansion of Biman Bangladesh Airlines is facing setback due to some factors including apathy of the authority concerned and failure to lease aircraft timely.

Other reasons behind the failure include poor managerial capacity, corruption in top management, present anti-corruption measures by the ministry and engagement of top brass in new appointment and promotion.

Meanwhile, the Anti Corruption Commission has set up an office at the Biman office premises, which is also affecting the usual activities of the organisation, sources said.

The national flag carrier had a plan to expand its air route network and increase flight frequency on both domestic and international routes by 2021.

It submitted a report on its three-year route expansion and flight frequency enhancement plan to the parliamentary standing committee on civil aviation and tourism at its 39th meeting held on September 03 in 2018.

The meeting was informed that Biman could successfully expand its international route network in future, provided they can procure wide-body aircraft.

It also said that there are four 777-300, four 737-800, three Dash-8 and two Dreamliners 787.

Biman had a plan to open and reopen eight international routes by 2021. These are Guangzhou, Sri Lanka, Male, Medinah, Delhi, Hong Kong, Rome and Manchester-New York-three flights each upon availability of wide-body aircraft.

Despite having much discussion, Biman failed to open Guangzhou route from January this year as it was focusing more on improvement of on-time performance in 2018. Earlier, Biman claimed to have appointed general sales agent (GSA) which now they answer in negative.

The national flag carrier then planned to open much-desired Guangzhou route from its summer schedule that starts from March 28 instead of its winter schedule.

Biman was supposed to collect two Boeing 737 NGs from Kuwait-based leasing company Alafco under a dry lease agreement to operate flights on Guangzhou route.

The two aircraft were used by Okay Airlines of China which is now a bankrupt company. The Chinese airliner flied the aircraft for eight years.

Alafco has taken back their aircraft which now Biman has been leasing for six years under dry lease agreement.

The aircraft were expected to reach Dhaka in December last year. But the arrival of the first aircraft has been deferred in the second week of May this year.

The chief of quality assurance, chief engineer (production), one officer from flight operation and two civil aviation officers are due to visit China in the first week of next month.

The Biman authority was not informed properly about the second aircraft.

Biman sources said these two Boeing 737 aircraft were manufactured in 2010.

Shakil Meraj, general manager (Public Relations) of Biman Bangladesh Airlines, told the FE recently that initially, Biman has been planning to operate four weekly flights to Guangzhou from June this year.

"We have revised our target to operate flight to Guangzhou by June with a Boeing 737 with 162 seat capacity. We are waiting for the permission of the civil aviation authority of central China. Then, we will get the provincial authority permission," he said.

The national flag carrier also had plans to operate flights to Colombo and Male with the same aircraft.

Biman is scheduled to open the fourth destination in the Middle East (ME) that is Medinah from 27 October. At present, Biman operates flights to three ME destinations-Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam.

But experts said at least three Middle East-based carriers-Etihad, Fly Dubai, and Oman Air-have suspended operation in Bangladesh for last one year, increasing the airfare abnormally. Poor migrant workers are now paying more than double the price for tickets.

But the Biman authority has hardly any major business plan to tap the opportunity.

When asked, Shakil Meraj said they have plans to increase frequency to the ME, depending passengers' demand and availability of aircraft. He, however, termed the present crisis as a temporary demand.

"According to our marketing department data and information, the demand for tickets to ME countries will be eroded after one month. This type of demand is created, depending on visa availability," he said, adding: At present, Saudi Arabia and Dubai authorities have been issuing more visas than previous time which will not sustain in near future.

"We also deploy wide-body aircraft seeing the rise in passengers' demand," Mr Shakil added.

BAIRA held a press conference on the rise in migration cost as all the foreign airlines have recently hiked their fare.

Secretary general of Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agency (BAIRA) Shameem Ahmed Chowdhury Noman trashed the view of Mr Shakil.

He said the Biman authority might have considered the Umrah pilgrims with regular passengers making the flow double and that will end after Ramadan. But it is not the situation as almost 40 weekly flights are not operating now from ME countries to Dhaka.

"These passengers are now paying more than double the price. Biman carries only 7.5 per cent of overall passengers," he said.

"We want Biman and other foreign carriers to increase their flight frequency, reserve 75 per cent seats for our workers in each flight and check seat blocking to overcome the present artificial crisis," said Mr Shameem.

Biman high officials and board members have been paying attention to these demands or trying to reap benefits of the opportunity.

The present managing director is due for retirement. His term will end in May, making him less interested about business performance. He is also the acting director of marketing and sales department.

The post of marketing director is also lying vacant.

The Biman authority is now looking for MD, DMD and marketing director. Most of the persons allegedly involved with corruption and irregularities are applying for the posts while some are still carrying out various responsibilities.

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