Bangladesh Biman plans to treble fleet by 2030

National flag carrier’s CEO Md Mokabbir Hossain tells New Age in an interview

Muktadir Rashid | Published: 00:00, Feb 09,2020 | Updated: 19:42, Feb 11,2020


Biman Bangladesh Airlines managing director Md Mokabbir Hossain makes a point during an interview with New Age in Dhaka recently. — New Age photo

National flag carrier Biman Bangladesh Airlines Limited has planned to increase its fleet size up to 50 aircraft from the existing 18 by 2030.

Biman hinted that alongside the Boeing Company other aircraft manufacturers would also be considered during the next procurement.

Biman managing director and chief executive officer Md Mokabbir Hossain in an interview with New Age recently said that they would also increase the numbers of both domestic and international routes.

The new aircraft would be used to establish connections to new destinations from Japan to North America and increase the flight frequencies to Middle Eastern and Chinese destinations in the near future.

Among Biman’s current 18 aircraft, the manufacturer of all but two aircraft was Boeing while the rest two have been made by Canada’s Bombardier Inc.

‘As our lease for the two [Boeing] 373 will end soon, we need two more similar airliners to carry the same passengers,’ said the CEO, adding that they would likely to consider other manufacturers while procuring new airliners.

Six planes of the country’s fleet were obtained on lease and once the three Dash 8 Q400 aircraft bought from Bombardier reach Dhaka by May-June this year they would replace the two Dash 8 aircraft currently in use on lease.

The Biman CEO said that after the arrival of those Dashes they would focus on more frequent flights on seven domestic routes, using those on the regional routes.

The CEO, however, said that they were currently working to bring transparency in the operational capacities and managing the carrier’s existing manpower, including maintaining on-time flight performance and improving the on-broad services.

Biman, he added, has improved its check-in system, which would close all checks-in in 30 minutes before the domestic flights and in one hour before the international flights.

‘We have shortage of operational manpower and we are making recruitments to this end,’ said Mokabbir, who is also on Biman’s board of directors, expressing sharp resentment on past recruitments that were not always based on the needs.

Biman is planning to develop its engineering service for the line services for their foreign carriers using the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka to ‘commercialise’ their services and make them profitable.

Mokabbir said that the Biman engineers were used to Boeing planes but they wanted to prepare engineering manpower for airliners from other manufacturers, too.

Biman has a plan to operate freighter services as per market assessment amid a huge demand from the domestic traders, the CEO said, adding that in that case the freighters would connect South East Asia to the Middle East or beyond using Dhaka as base. 

Immediately after the country’s liberation on December 16, 1971, Biman Bangladesh Airlines started its journey as the national flag carrier on January 4, 1972 with a DC-3 aircraft.

After procuring two F-27s, Biman finally took off on March 7, 1972, with domestic flights to Chittagong and Sylhet from its base in Dhaka.

Currently Biman is operating flights to and from seven domestic and 17 international destinations.

On January 5 last, Biman launched its direct flight between Dhaka and Manchester, the major city of northwest England, and brand-new Boeing Dreamliner 787-9 airliners were being used to operate flights on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday on the route.

Around 90,000 Bangladeshis live in Manchester but Biman suspended flights on the Dhaka–Manchester route due to shortage of aircraft in 2012.

‘We want to connect Dhaka to Toronto via Manchester as we find the route financially viable for us…now we are looking for permission for three flights a week on the Dhaka–Manchester–Toronto route’.

And, he said, they were also approaching the US Federal Aviation Authorities for Dhaka–Manchester–New York route and the authorities would be inspecting the Dhaka airport shortly in this regard.

The loss-making Dhaka–New York flights of Biman have remained suspended since July 2006.

‘If we operate three flights a week, the route can be viable,’ said Mokabbir.

He, however, was unwilling to say whether the recently resumed Dhaka–Manchester route became viable.

The Biman MD said that they were now focusing on markets and exploring destinations which should be financially viable for the airline.

‘We are now prioritising our Dhaka–Tokyo flight,’ he added.

Bangladesh in January revised its air service agreement with Japan increasing the weekly flight frequency from two to seven and dropping the third-country restriction on the Dhaka–Tokyo route.

In the past, Thailand was the mandatory stopover for the Bangladeshi flights to Tokyo but now the flights can have the stopover in any country as Bangladesh needs.

Mokabbir said that after the air service deal was revised Biman was planning to operate three flights a week on the Dhaka–Tokyo route in the near future.

‘We will operate two flights via Thailand and will also fly directly to Japan,’ said the Biman boss.

Biman suspended its service on the Dhaka–Tokyo route in 2006, finding it not commercially viable.

Now given the enhanced business ties and higher tourist movement between the two countries, the airline decided to resume its flights on the route, the official added.

He said that they would be increasing the number of flights to Riyadh, Dammam and Dubai, among other ME destinations, with their youngest airliners with their average age of 3.5 years.

The national flag carrier CEO said that they rescheduled the Dhaka–Delhi flights and were getting a huge response on the route while planning to expand its wings to Chennai in the near future.  

Mokabbir said that they were planning to operate flights on the Dhaka-Guangzhou route and the Chinese inspection authorities would be inspecting the Biman office in Guangzhou on February 12.

He also said that the long-haul aircraft would be used on long routes, like Sylhet–London direct flights.

The modernisation of the Sylhet International Airport is under way, including installation of security features.

‘I hope that if the inspection is done by March, this direct flight can be operated from May this year,’ he further said. 

When the new aircraft would be available and domestic flights would be enough to operate, he said, Biman might operate cross-city services like Sylhet–Cox’s Bazar and Jashore–Cox’s Bazar flights in future as now any flyer must use the Dhaka or the Chattogram airport.

Mokabbir, a serving bureaucrat, who was given the charge of the loss-making national airline in September 2019 to make it viable and functional, also said that the current management wanted to bring transparency in its operations with developing a ‘system’ so that it would run ‘systematically’ whoever assumed the leadership.

For the sake of transparency, he said, they have taken a number of initiatives, including ticketing through mobile-based applications at a cheaper rate than that of the base fares while making tickets available at more places in the capital.

‘We will shortly open a sales centre at Dhanmondi on the land we have recently recovered. Another sales centre will be opened at the Balaka Bhaban now under renovation,’ said the CEO.

The Biman CEO mentioned that after he took over, he tried to maintain the baggage delivery on time for all international and domestic passengers but sometimes they were facing problems when ‹notam› occurred.

Notam is a notice filed with an aviation authority to alert aircraft pilots against potential hazards along a flight route or at a location that could affect the safety of the flight due to special flight movement.

He said that he was trying to visit passenger management in person or in disguise so that the services could be ensured for all.

Mokabbir said they stopped the ticketing up-gradation system so that Biman could earn more revenue from the passengers opting for more luxury.

The Biman top manager said that they introduced an additional 10 per cent food for the passengers travelling from Middle Eastern countries considering their travel distances and sufferings before reaching their destinations.

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