SPECIAL : Biman NY flights: no smooth take-off yet

Biman's New York flights, recently trumpeted as resuming after over three years from Nov 24, has again become uncertain for lack of preparation to re-open the route, say officials. Reazul Bashar writes

bdnews24.com
Published : 4 Nov 2009, 00:31 AM
Updated : 4 Nov 2009, 00:31 AM
Reazul Bashar
bdnews24.com aviation correspondent
Dhaka, Nov 4 (bdnews24.com)—Biman's New York flights, recently trumpeted as resuming after over three years from Nov 24, has again become uncertain for lack of preparation to re-open the route, say officials.
Two new Boeing 777-200ERs, for operating long-haul routes, are scheduled to arrive soon, but officials could not say exactly when they would be available.
Meanwhile, efforts were on to procure a Boeing-767 on a "short-term basis" for the crucial New York route, officials of the national flag carrier said.
Air commodore (retd) Muhammad Zakiul Islam, chief executive officer and managing director of Biman Bangladesh Airlines, told bdnews24.com on Tuesday, "We wanted to start flying to New York from November 24, once a week."
"But considering the upcoming holidays of Eid-ul-Azha and Christmas, launching of the flight might be delayed."
Islam, earlier on Oct 28, had said that the 777s were being delayed. "But the company will lease us a Boeing 767 for six weeks. We're going to resume the route with this one on a temporary basis."
Chairman of the standing committee on the ministry of civil aviation and tourism Mosharraf Hossain had also told media last week of the decision to re-launch the New York flight in November.
But one of Biman's directors, talking to bdnews24.com on condition of anonymity, after a board meeting on Tuesday, said, "The meeting discussed the matter and suggested taking necessary preparations to resume the New York flight in December."
However, another top aviation official claimed, "We've finished our preparations. We can start as soon as the aircraft reaches us."
Biman signed a letter of intent with the Portugal-based Euro Atlantic at the end of September to procure two Boeing 777-200ERs on lease—one for flying to New York twice a week via Manchester and the other to European destinations.
Another Biman official said, "Usually aircrafts are delivered within 50 to 60 days of signing the deal. But the 200ERs were being flown by a Singapore Airlines. Now those will be sent for maintenance."
"Hopefully they are expected to be delivered to Biman in December."
Captain (retd) Akram Ahmed Bir Uttam, a consultant of the civil aviation authority, told bdnews24.com that the number of flights could possibly be increased in future as it has always been a popular route.
"Passengers to North America are so huge that one flight can be operated every day to three destinations—four days to New York and the rest to Toronto and Los Angeles.
"Another advantage for the passengers is they won't have to change planes en route to New York," Ahmed, also the vice president of Bangladesh Flying Club, added.
The popular New York route was suspended in July 2006 as the national airline was incurring financial losses of around Tk 40 lakh on each flight while its fleet was suffering from a shortage of aircraft, he added.
Biman first introduced the route in December 1993 with one flight a week. The number of flights was gradually increased to three a week on June 2000.
A former Biman official, who wanted to remained unnamed, said, "New York should not have been a loss-making route as there were so many passengers … Biman incurred such losses because of corruption and mismanagement," he alleged.
"Biman was incurring losses due to corruption in selling tickets. Some people used to embezzle $100 to $200 on every ticket sold by agents.
"Extra tickets were also sold and the passengers did not find their seats after boarding the aircraft," the official said recalling his experience as a former employee.
The flights suffered another setback. They had to be operated through Brussels where the airline did not have an office, Biman officials said.
Biman later tried to change the route but failed to do so due to objections from the American Federal Aviation Authority. It degraded Biman to category-2 from category-1 because of the state of their aircraft.
Their policy said any flight having a category-2 certification could not change their course ahead of landing in America.
Biman is now running flights on 24 routes with four DC-10, two Airbus-320 and two F-28 aircraft.
The national flag carrier is also currently operating Hajj flights with three aircraft on rent to carry pilgrims to Saudi Arabia.
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