Biman set to fly into schedule chaos

Failure of the flag carrier to hire more aircraft is almost sure to translate into chaotic schedule of regular flights during the Hajj time this year, Ashik Hossain writes.
Published : 31 August 2012, 01:49 AM
Updated : 31 August 2012, 01:49 AM
Ashik Hossain correspondent
Dhaka, Aug 31 (—Chances of regular flight schedule of Biman Bangladesh Airlines plunging into chaos during the Hajj time this year have become near-certain as the flag carrier has failed to hire more aircraft to ferry pilgrims.
Biman has decided to ferry at least 50,000 pilgrims itself, which could cause severe disruptions in the regular schedule.
According to the flight schedule of the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism, Hajj flights from Bangladesh will begin on Sept 17 and end on Nov 29.
Biman authorities also admit that the regular flights would have to be slashed during the Hajj season.
Confirming the inability to hire carriers, Biman's Acting Managing Director Mosaddek Ahmed told "The regular flight schedule will be pruned a bit for this."
But he declined to speak any further on the issue.
People associated with Biman feel if any flight gets cancelled because of weather or any other reason during restrictions on the regular schedule, schedule disaster would not be too far away.
Former Biman Director Qazi Wahedul Alam told "The decision (to ferry the pilgrims through own carriers) is going to make Biman face a severe schedule disruption."
"Flights to Delhi, London, Milan and several other countries have already been cancelled. Passengers are unable to buy tickets anymore. The situation can become more unstable in future."
He said Biman should have taken proper preparation beforehand to tackle this situation.
A top Biman official told that they had a planned to hire three aircraft each with a capacity to carry over 500 passengers. But they could charter only one Boeing from Avico Airlines. The flag carrier's two Boeings will also be used to carry the devotees along with the rented one as they could not manage two more, said the official who declined to be named.
The official admitted the disorder in the regular flights will be inescapable as Biman is giving priority to ferrying the pilgrims for the largest annual Islamic congregation.
The official also said Biman was considering using the smaller planes to fly on Middles East and European routes to keep the regular flight schedule unharmed.
Qazi Wahedul Alam, however, warned Biman of the long-term effects of the flight schedule crisis. "This situation may cause Biman to lose its passengers on these routes."
"The Hajj season lasts only two months. But this crisis will leave a long-term effect which may plunge Biman into a financial crisis in future," he added.
He observed that Biman could have avoided the situation if a third carrier was hired to ferry the devotees.
As per a deal signed with Saudi Arabia, Biman, Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia) and Saudia-approved National Air Services (NAS) will be carrying the pilgrims this year and there will be no third carrier.
The possible date to hold the Hajj this year is Oct 26. A total of 112,568 Bangladeshis will have the opportunity to take part in the pilgrimage under government and private arrangements.
According to the government information, Biman will carry 56,600 of them while Saudia will transport 40,000 and other airlines will ferry the rest.
The Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism published the flight schedule for the Hajj on Aug 12. The first Hajj flight of Biman will take off at 5am on Sep 17 with 582 passengers and the last one on Oct 22.
NAS's first flight is scheduled to fly out at 9:30am on Sep 17 and Saudia's at 1pm on Sep 21.
The return flights of Biman will start on Nov 1 and end on Nov 29. NAS's return flights will begin on Oct 30 and end on Nov 28, while the Saudia will operate return flights from Oct 30 to Nov 30.
Biman officials said Biman was currently using a DC-10, an Airbus, two Boeing 777-300 ERs, and two other Boeings on lease to run the regular flights.
The government has permitted Biman to operate 213 flights to carry pilgrims this year. Of them, 110 are Saudi Arabia-bound and the others will carry the pilgrims back home.
Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher