Can the new minister solve the aviation crisis?
It is now a known fact that the aviation sector has not been performing properly because of overwhelming crisis that has gripped the Civil Aviation Authority, Bangladesh (CAAB) and Biman Bangladesh Airlines.
The government has recently appointed a new Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister to gear up the sector’s development work along with removing the existing problems. But will the newly appointed minister be able to solve the problems such as the cargo ban by the UK, and ensure safety measures in airports and aircrafts within his one-year tenure?
The construction of a new international airport, the extension of a third terminal at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, and resuming operations on the air routes to European and Middle-East countries are all currently progressing very slowly.
Adding to that, Biman Bangladesh Airlines continues to lose money in recent years. Newly appointed Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister AKM Shajahan Kamal told the Dhaka Tribune: “It is challenging to solve all of the problems in the civil aviation sector. But I will do my best and try and mobilize the aviation sector.”
When will the UK cargo ban be withdrawn?
Biman fell into crisis after UK’s announcement of a ban on operating direct cargo flights to London owing to safety issues in March of 2016.
As a result, Bangladeshi businessmen are now exporting products to UK with transits through Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand or Dubai, making business costly.
The Civil Aviation Ministry has been trying to have the ban lifted since then but the bar remains in place.
“We have taken all the initiatives to ensure security following the requirement of the UK government and hopefully the ban will be withdrawn before the New Year,” Rashed Khan Menon said during a meeting over the issue on December last year, when he was in the charge at the Civil Aviation and Tourism Ministry.
In addition, UK has recently included 10 new conditions regarding the ban.
However, Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) Chairman Air Vice-Marshal M Naim Hassan told the Dhaka Tribune: “The progress of discussion on withdrawal of the ban on direct cargo flight to London is now at a satisfactory level. The ban will be lifted soon.”
In reply a query he said: “UK has raised some new points regarding the ban issue but they are not new conditions.”
Biman losing money
Biman Bangladesh Airlines generated an income of Tk315 crore in FY2015-16, which has gone down to Tk244 crore in FY2016-17, with profits coming down to Tk47 crore from Tk235 from the previous fiscal year.
Biman generates income by cargo and passenger transportation. But both of the services are facing troubles due to ban on direct cargo flight to UK and the passenger carrier Boeing 777-200 ER not being operational for many days due to technical fault. “Last year our profit went down because of ban on direct cargo flight to UK. If the ban is lifted our profit and goodwill both will rise again,” said a senior official of Biman.
“The Boeing 777-200 ER aircrafts have been hired from EgyptAir Airlines for passenger flight but that is now not operational. As a result Biman is losing money,” he added.
The parliamentary standing committee on Civil Aviation and Tourism Ministry has suggested Biman Bangladesh Airlines returns the two Boeing aircrafts to the EgyptAir before completing the tenure by cancelling the agreement.
Is it possible to improve security at airports?
The main building of the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport was hit with a fire incident on September last year during the Hajj flight season. The flight schedule was stopped for three hours due to the incident.
A probe body was formed to investigate the fire incident while they mentioned that the Dhaka airport does not have the modern technology regarding fire safety.
The inquiry committee suggested installing standard fire safety as an international airport.
Even the internal security systems are not on a satisfactory level.
Development work progressing slowly
The Civil Aviation Ministry is yet to fix a place for the proposed Bangabandhu Airport, the construction of which was to be started by 2017.
“There have some complexities selecting the place for the proposed Bangabandhu Airport. But hopefully the complexities will be solved within a short time,” said CAAB Chairman Air Vice-Marshal M Naim Hassan.
The construction work of a third terminal of the Dhaka airport is also facing delay. But the CAAB chairman is confident that they will float tender very soon.
The parliamentary standing committee showed dissatisfaction during a meeting in December last due to maximum development work progressing slowly.
“It was really challenging to do work at the Civil Aviation Ministry because of various limitations,” said Rashed Khan Menon, when speaking of the time he was in charge of the ministry.
However, newly appointed minister Shajahan Kamal is confident that he can overcome the challenges.