The Financial Express

Gaining speed in the 21st century aviation

| Updated: March 13, 2021 21:07:52

Gaining speed in the 21st century aviation

In terms of Biman Bangladesh Airline's slow-expanding fleet, optimistic people can take heart. Although it started its journey with its lone DC-3 on January 4, 1972, for a ceremonial opening Biman had to wait for two more months. In the meantime, the national flag carrier of the newly independent country had procured two F-27s. Biman finally took off on the 7th March in 1972, its flights limited to the domestic ones to Chattogram and Sylhet. In 2021, Biman owns 4 Boeing 777-300 ER, 4 Boeing 787-8, two Boeing 787-9, six Boeing-737 and four 74-seat Dash 8-400 passenger aircraft. The total comes to 20. Although Biman has yet to have wide bodied, large-capacity and time-befitting speedy aircraft, its fleet is on way to laying claim to be a nearly complete one in proportion to the country's economic strength. People close the aviation world hope, by the time Bangladesh graduates to its cherished developing status the size of its national carrier's fleet is set to reach a comfortable shape.

However, a sticky point standing in the way of the progress of the country's aviation industry is the still fledgling state of its premier airport in Dhaka, the country's capital.

In the early 1990s, the tarmac-centred aerial view of Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka would make one feel veritably disheartened. The feeling of despair stemmed from the miserably poor number of aircraft parked on the airport apron. At that time, just a few overseas airways would fly in to Dhaka. Notable of them were British Airways, Thai Airways, Cathay Pacific, Indian Airlines, Royal Nepalese Airlines, Drukair (Bhutan) etc. The number of Bangladesh passenger aircraft --- Biman, was not that high which can enable people to take pride in it. The spectacle, however, changed drastically in one decade. Many foreign airlines had stopped their Dhaka service due to what they dubbed a lack of basic operation-related facilities at airport. Surprisingly, just at that time Biman Bangladesh Airline's aircraft continued to increase. In the following years, Biman took pride in possessing several wide-bodied as well as lower-capacity aircraft. Its relatively large aircraft would connect London and some European routes, and also New York.

 The New York route was eventually cancelled allegedly for the flights' failure to maintain timeliness in its schedule. However, the number of aircraft of different models and sizes continued to rise. They operated on different regional routes, along with a few private airlines. Meanwhile, several Indian private airways became popular with the country's flyers, thanks to their punctuality in maintaining their arrival and departure schedules. In spite of the amazingly enhanced bustling state of Dhaka Airport in early 21st century, it had a long way to go to reach anywhere near the ambience of many mid-rank airports like in Kolkata or in Kathmandu. Compared to the airports at Singapore, Heathrow (London), New York or Chicago, the international airport in Dhaka often appears like a large airfield. In the 50 years of independence, Dhaka ought to have emerged at least a regionally important airport. Unfortunately, it failed in that task. Encouraging news is the number of accidents involving Biman aircraft and technical glitches while they are on flight are still nominal. At the same time, the Bangladesh flag carrier in the last three decades witnessed a remarkably steady increase in its regionally and domestically operating flights. It had continued until the Covid-19 pandemic struck the world including Bangladesh. With the worse phase of the pandemic over, at least for now, Bangladesh aviation authorities have resumed its abruptly stalled flight expansion programmes and begun broadening its fleet of aircraft; and also its flight network.  

The world air travels are becoming easier and comfortable as time wears on. At the same time they are fast emerging hazardous, thanks to the many uncertainties associated with the flights. The most noticeable of them is related to an aircraft's capability to carry its passengers to their destinations safely. The whole episode speaks of the return of the fear and edginess that would haunt a lot of air passengers decades ago. Aviation experts blame the jet aircraft-building companies' fierce competition to make more comfortable and more passenger-carrying and speedier planes than their rivals for making of in-roads into newer areas like non-stop long haul flights. In the last few years, opening of several such routes have altered the earlier homely nature of aviation. Few regular flyers could have ever thought that one day people would be able to travel nonstop from Dubai to Sydney aboard a spacious, speedy jet airliner. But such a flight is in full operation like those connecting Singapore with New York and San Francisco without break. A London-Sydney nonstop flight is on the anvil. In fact, these ventures are replete with myriad types of challenges. Starting from keeping the passengers hale and hearty to ensuring that the multiple engines function properly, the operators of these flights have to remain also prepared for unforeseen hazards.

A distressing phenomenon which has lately started sullying the reputation of many globally dominant airlines is the competition to dwarf their rivals. This competition between jet airliners began in the 1990s. With the launch of the wide-body A 380 by Airbus and Boeing's bringing to market its 747-8, the direct competition and rivalry continued to become fiercer, especially on long-haul flights. Like in other industries, mergers also haven't escaped the airlines sector. While the start of Airbus was in the form of a European consortium, the American Boeing was compelled to resort to mergers. It first absorbed its former arch-rival McDonnel Douglas in 1997. Meanwhile, the aircraft builders like Lockheed Martin and Convair in the US and British Aerospace and Fokker in Europe were no longer in their former vibrant shapes. Eventually, they began withdrawing from the market. The Boeing had bad days in store. They felt the pinch after the company was compelled to go ahead with a series of groundings of its now-controversial Boeing 737 Max. A series of air disasters involving the particular Boeing aircraft may have expedited the start of an ill-starred phase for the company.

In short, both Airbus and Boeing companies had to incur considerable losses in the recent years. Earlier, after the Franco-British manufacture of the super-speed Concord and its withdrawal after a calamitous accident, the aircraft industry should have paused a while to make an appraisal of the whole gamut of 'speed'. It eluded everybody's mind. What followed was a nasty competition to woo passengers, sacrificing the issues of safety and comfort. On the other hand, the National Geographic channel's investigations of the causes of smaller aircraft crashes open a new area dominated by human errors made in the pilots' cabin.

Already, aircraft phobia afflicts many people. It is caused by fear of both altitude and the aircraft's speed (presumed or announced by the pilots). Things have come to such a pass that even in the 21st century, there are people around who cannot muster the courage to board a plane during their lifetime. Theirs are isolated cases. Almost 90 per cent of the financially capable people in today's world find the aircraft an essential mode of communication. They can manage to keep their foreboding about plane travels away. To seasoned travellers, air flights have become an essential part of the modern life. A meaningful life eventually becomes immobile and barren without essential air travels.

Lots of people, thus, fly across the continents without fear. The flipside is the ominous thought of their being caught in an air crash anytime remains buried in their subconscious. The times of mid-air air collisions or a plane hit by lighting are largely gone. But ice accumulation on the planes' wings has become a new menace. In the last few decades newer dreads have also started plaguing air travels. Those remained beyond the furthest recess of the human prescience. An impromptu instance could be an ego clash between a pilot and the co-pilot in the cockpit of a wide-body aircraft. Apparently a normal human behaviour, tiffs such as this carry the horrific potential for leading a passenger and crew-filled aircraft to a disastrous end.

To the great relief of many, due to the humble growth of the Bangladesh aviation industry, it could avert the maddening excesses of aeronautical wizardry.

[email protected]


Share if you like