Bangladesh to resume domestic flights on Jun 1, international flights stay suspended

  • Reazul Bashar and Golam Mujtaba Dhruba, bdnews24.com
    Published: 2020-05-28 17:53:20 BdST

bdnews24

The government is allowing domestic flights to resume in a reduced capacity from Jun 1 after grounding them for more than two months in a measure to stop the spread of coronavirus.

International flights will stay suspended at least until Jun 15.

“The domestic flights on Dhaka, Chattogram, Sylhet and Syedpur routes will be operational from Jun 1,” Civil Aviation Secretary Md Mohibul Haque told bdnews24.com.

“We are not reopening flights on all domestic routes for now as three airports are now ready,” said Air Vice Marshal M Mafidur Rahman, the chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh or CAAB.

Flights will resume on all routes within a week if all the airports are ready, he said, and added that a decision about international air connectivity remained pending as Bangladesh was still flagged as a high-risk zone by many countries.

CAAB spokesman Mohammad Sohel Kamruzzaman said the suspension on international flights has been extended to Jun 15.

A decision on international flights will be made after Jun 15, Mafidur said.

In a bid to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus infection, Bangladesh initially banned all flights to and from Europe, except the UK, on Mar 16. Later, the ban was extended to flights from all countries, except China.

Domestic flights were grounded too although the restrictions did not apply to chartered flights, cargo flights, air ambulances and any emergency landings.

Airliners in the country are struggling to manage their finances and have been pushing the government to lift the ban on flight operations.

They will appeal to Civil Aviation Authority, Bangladesh for permission to resume flights soon, said ATM Nazrul Islam, adviser of Aviation Operators Association of Bangladesh.

Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka is almost empty on Friday as most flights are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Mahmud Zaman Ovi

Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka is almost empty on Friday as most flights are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Mahmud Zaman Ovi

CURRENT STATE OF AIR TRAVEL

The International Air Transport Association predicted a massive loss of $113 billion for passenger airlines around the world this year after the coronavirus pandemic began, a 19 percent drop in business compared to the previous year.

Several countries have announced incentive packages for their aviation industry to tackle the economic fallout from the pandemic. Germany announced a $10 billion package for Lufthansa, the country's largest airline.

State-run Biman Bangladesh Airlines and private firms US-Bangla Airlines, Novo Air and Regent Airways in Bangladesh are hoping for government assistance to bail them out of the present crisis.

These four airlines have about 10,000 people working for them. Additionally, around 500,000 people, including the travel agents, tour operators, Hajj agents and others, depend on the aviation sector for their livelihoods.

Asked to estimate the losses incurred by Bangladesh's airliners, aviation expert Kazi Wahidul Islam said: “We can’t assess the situation right now; we need to wait until this phase ends."

The aviation sector has a high operating cost in comparison to industries, as it offers higher salaries to its staff and bears the cost of maintaining and renting aircraft as well as paying parking fees.

Globally, the aviation sector has ‘suffered the biggest losses’ during the pandemic, said Mafizur Rahman, managing director of Novo Air.

“Our country is not an exception to it. Rather we are confronting more challenges. We have not been able to resume flight operations as yet. We are not sure how long the situation will persist,” he said.

Private airliners in the country employ 4,000 people, he said, adding that the authorities of Novo Air have no plan to terminate its staff as they will be needed once flights resume. “I hope the other airlines are not considering laying off people,” said Mafizur.

Although the airlines had no earnings over the couple of past months, they are still having to pay salaries to its staff and other maintenance costs from their own funds.

Most of them are having trouble paying the high fees for their hired planes.

One airliner has also placed most of its staff on leave without pay from April, according to one of its officials, who asked not to be named.

National flag-carrier Biman has already received Tk 10 billion in aid from the government.

Biman's incurred losses of Tk 9 billion from January to April due to the coronavirus crisis, Secretary Mohibul Haque earlier told bdnews24.com.

“Biman is trying to recover the losses by operating chartered flights. The government aid will help the airline make an initial recovery,” he said.

Biman has no plans to lay off its staff but in some cases, salaries and allowances may be compromised, he said.

WHEN WILL THE CRISIS END?

On average, 6.5 million passengers fly abroad from Bangladesh each year, said Nazrul Islam, adviser of Aviation Operators Association of Bangladesh. Among them, 72 percent fly foreign airlines and the Bangladeshi airliners attract 28 percent of passengers.

Around 2 million passengers fly on the domestic routes every year despite there being a demand of 3.5 million passengers, he said.

Airlines in Bangladesh operate flights to 17 international and seven domestic destinations. The international destinations mostly include countries in the Middle East and South Asia along with the UK.

Most of the international passengers are expatriate Bangladeshis with another group flying out for the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages. The overall economic slump in the sector will remain irrecoverable until the coronavirus crisis ebbs, according to experts.

“The manpower export to different countries will slow down due to the pandemic. We don’t know when, if ever, the new recruitment drive will take place,” Wahidul told bdnews24.com.

The number of passengers flying abroad will decrease sharply under the circumstances, he believes.

“It will take a long time for people to regain their confidence to travel. We don’t expect a travel-friendly environment soon,” Wahidul said.

It may take two years more for the aviation industry to return to normal, he added.

“Commercial travel may resume, but we can only expect 20 to 25 percent of the flight operations to resume in the next 6 to 9 months.”

Travel for religious purposes, job, holidaying and medical purposes will hardly take place now, he said.