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Bangladesh flag carrier suspends all domestic flights till Nov 29

Publication Date : 20-09-2012


Bangladesh flag carrier Biman yesterday suspended all its domestic flights until November 29, so that it could use two more aircraft on international routes.

It's ambition of earning a profit of 1 billion taka (US$12.24 million) by ferrying more than twice the hajj pilgrims it did last year is the principal reason behind its flight schedule disaster.

With just nine planes in its fleet, it decided to carry around 57,000 pilgrims.

Last year, it had leased two very large planes, Boeing 747s, to carry the pilgrims but this year it leased just one but doubled the number of pilgrims.

Additionally, it borrowed two planes from United Airways to reduce flight delays and cancellations.

Meanwhile, thousands of Biman flyers are still stuck at airports and hotels, going through unimaginable suffering as the national flag carrier tries to work out a flight schedule that has gone absolutely haywire.

Over the last few days, around 100 Biman flyers told The Daily Star that they would never fly Biman again.

Biman and civil aviation ministry officials said had the ministry not endorsed Biman's “inefficient” Board of Directors' decision to carry such a huge number of pilgrims, Biman would not have been in this situation.

"Biman had projected a 1 billion taka profit in ferrying hajj pilgrims but now it will have to count 2 billion taka losses due to the flight schedule chaos," claimed a top official of Biman's marketing department.

Biman and civil aviation ministry officials said Biman did not keep any options open when deciding to take on the colossal challenge of ferrying 57,000 pilgrims with its puny fleet.

They said in previous years, the door was always left open for Biman to get out of a sticky situation. Allowing other airlines to carry pilgrims to avert a crisis was one way of handling emergent conditions.

Biman is now an independent body after it became a public limited company in 2007, with the ministry exercising less control over it.

However, it basically runs on public money, the officials claimed.

Even with the use of two Biman planes from domestic routes and two borrowed from United Airways, Biman authorities could not say when this crisis would blow over.

A Biman official said, "Only Allah can restore discipline."

He feared a serious disruption in hajj flights too if a plane developed a problem.

Biman has no backup aircraft.

Biman's acting managing director A.M. Mosaddique Ahmed, however, said the situation might become normal by September 25 when an Airbus A310 and a DC-10 were expected to join the fleet after repairs.

A leased Boeing 767 was also expected to arrive by then, he said.

The DC-10 was supposed to be in service on September 17 after an engine change but the engineering department of Biman could not make the deadline.

Officials said an Airbus was in Singapore for overhaul and Biman's attempts over the last few months to bring it back to its services had failed.

The chairman of the Biman Board of Directors, Air Marshal (retd) Jamal Uddin Ahmed, last night told The Daily Star that the suffering of passengers owing to the flight schedule chaos was unexpected.

He claimed that Biman had nothing to do with it as it had a small fleet of “five to six aircraft”, many of which were old.

He said he had rebuked Biman officials for not informing passengers beforehand about delays.

Asked why Biman made the ambitious decision to carry 57,000 pilgrims, he claimed that the airline had made proper plans for carrying pilgrims without any flight schedule problems.

The crisis began when a leased Boeing 747, which was supposed to carry 4,500 passengers, left without notice, he claimed, adding that the plane had eight flights scheduled.

Asked why Biman could not put the DC-10 and the Airbus in Singapore back into service, he said it could not be done since it involved a large amount of money.

He said despite high-level meetings between the Singaporean company overhauling the Airbus, the company failed to hand over the plane despite several time extensions.

"We've become hostage to the Singaporean company," he said.

He said Biman had thrice floated tenders since March to lease three over 500-seater (Boeing 747s) planes for carrying pilgrims. In the event, it could only lease one.

He said companies were demanding high prices for the planes.

A Biman official said dishonest officials at the sections concerned were providing misleading information based on which Biman was making plans that eventually failed.

Last year, Biman carried 24,000 pilgrims, out of a total of 1,06,965, and it leased two Boeing 747s so that flight schedules on 18 destinations did not suffer.

Even after the failing to lease two Boeing 747s out of three, the Biman Board of Directors, where Chairman Jamal Uddin allegedly plays a unilateral role, decided to carry almost half of the total 1,12,568 hajj pilgrims this year.

To carry the pilgrims, Biman suspended services on five international routes and cut flight frequencies on almost all other routes.

The Hong Kong, New Delhi, Karachi, Manchester and Milan routes have been suspended until November 30.

Weekly flights to London, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Kuwait, Riyadh, Dammam, Muscat, Kathmandu, Rome, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Kolkata have also been significantly cut or smaller planes were deployed.

This had been causing the backlog of passengers who, claimed the Biman official, were around 4,000.

Domestic flight suspension

Though Biman suspended operations on domestic routes from September 17, the move was made public yesterday.

Two small aircraft -- an Airbus A310 and a Boeing 737 -- were operating seven flights a week each on the Dhaka-Chittagong and Dhaka-Sylhet routes.

Biman officials said the aircraft were pulled out of domestic routes and had been placed on Dhaka-Kolkata, -Kathmandu, -Bangkok and -Kuala Lumpur and -Singapore routes.

A Biman official said special arrangements would be made to bring international passengers of Biman to Dhaka from Sylhet and Chittagong.

Excluding planes for hajj flights and including two planes pulled into service from domestic routes, Biman now has four planes on international routes.

United Airways BD Ltd and Regent Airways now have all domestic passengers to cater to. United Airlines runs 10 domestic flights daily while Regent Airways six to 10 destinations across the country.

*US$1=81.73 taka


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