Pandemic deals harsh blow to domestic aviation industry
Airliners report Tk 2,500 crore losses till June
A Biman Bangladesh Airlines Boeing 787 aircraft is seen taking off from the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka. (File photo)
Like everywhere else in the world, the Bangladesh's aviation Industry has suffered considerable damage as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Industry insiders have claimed that local airliners altogether piled up Tk 2,500 crore losses (from January to June this year) and they are now facing an uphill struggle to return to normal operations and sound financial health as air travel was suspended for about three months in response to the outbreak of COVID-19 infections.
"Our capacity loss in February was 28 per cent, which stood at 76 per cent at the end of March. Operation of all commercial flights was halted between the end of March and until June. Since then we have operated only chartered and cargo flights but those were limited. We have started Dhaka-London and Dhaka- Dubai flights since Britain and UAE opened their airports. But there are a lot of restrictions in flight operation," Md Mokabbir Hossain, Managing Director and CEO of Biman Bangladesh Airlines told The New Nation recently while describing the current situation of the state-owned airliner.
Biman Bangladesh Airlines and the country's other three private airlines, US Bangla, Novo Air and Regent Airways, did not operate any flights from March to early June. After being closed for about three months, the airlines started operating on a short range but none of them are getting sufficient passengers. Besides, all the activities of one of the three private airlines of the country are also closed.
Private airliners have sent all the workers to leave without pay and Biman Bangladesh Airlines has reduced salaries of its employees proportionately to handle the crisis situation.
"Biman is now operating two flights to international destinations whereas it used to operate 16 flights to international routes," said Hossain, adding, Biman has lost more than Tk 1,700 crore revenues from March to June due to disruption in flight operation."
Despite resumption of flight operations to those international destinations, Biman MD said, it is not possible to take passengers as per aircraft's capacity due to the health safety guidelines regarding Covid-19.
"The IATA guidelines are that the two rows at the back of the plane must be empty. If someone gets sick while flying, they will be isolated there. Moreover, our civil aviation says two passengers can't sit side by side.
Besides, Covid-19 negative certificate should be given by the air passengers 72 hours before their flight. No matter passengers buy air tickets earlier, if anyone of them turns coronavirus positive then airliners can't allow him/her to fly. There is still such uncertainty in flight management, " said Hossain.
Not only the Biman Bangladesh Airlines, the Covid-19 dealt harsh blow to the private airlines too.
Information given to the Ministry of Civil Aviation by private flight operators, US Bangla has incurred a loss of around Tk 400 crore till June, Regent Airways Tk 200 crore, and Novo Air Tk 69 crore.
Insiders said, among the three private airliners, all activities of Regent Airways are now closed. Employees of the airliner earlier sent on leave for three months without pay and recently it has been extended till September. Only a handful of workers are working to reimburse tickets sold before the pandemic.
Officials of the airline could not be reached for comment.
"We are now struggling to survive as the pandemic severely battered the domestic aviation industry," Md. Kamrul Islam, General Manager, US-Bangla Airlines, told The New Nation.
To survive, he said, local airliners are trying to use various methods to reduce the operating cost. "We have requested the government for waiver of various aronotical and nonaeronotical charges to get rid of the ongoing crisis."
Islam also said that fuel cost is another big issue for the airliners. In Bangladesh, we can buy it from only one company which has a monopoly. A difference persists between the local and international prices of the fuel. We urged the government to fix a logical price of the Jet fuel which accounts for 40 per cent of an airline's operation.
Â The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said in a recent report that the jobs of 63,000 workers involved in the Bangladesh's aviation sector, including Biman, are at risk due to Covid-19 disruption in flight operations.
Although the airlines have not been laid off workers yet, the state-owned Biman has already made pay cut to various tier of its staff and employees proportionately.
According to the Biman Sramik League, the salaries of those involved in ground handling have been reduced by 15 per cent. Salaries also reduced by 20 per cent at the officers' level.
Sramik League President Mashikur Rahman said Biman is the lone government entity in the country that has reduced the salaries of its employees.
Before Covid-9 hit Bangladesh and aviation industry, airline traffic has been growing smartly. But it will be reduced by 49 per cent this year due to the impact of coronavirus pandemic, according to an IATA forecast.
From January to mid-March of this year, nearly 800,000 air passengers arrived in Bangladesh. Later, a total of 34,000 passengers arrived until June this year.Â