Growing domestic air travellers suffers due to lack of basic airport facilities

- By Raquib Siddiqi 03 Feb, 2018 | 985 Views | 0 Comments
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Over crowded domestic departure lounge at Shah Amanat Int. Airport Chittagong _Photo : Monitorv
Dhaka : Air Transport is the most convenient mode of transportation in the twenty_ first century and its attraction is increasing day by day.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) expects 7.8 billion passengers to travel in 2036; a near doubling of the 4 billion air travellers flew in 2016. The prediction is based on a 3.6 per cent average Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR).

Keeping pace with global trend, Bangladesh market-both international and domestic_ has also increased. But poor infrastructure in all the domestic airports in the country is making experience of domestic air travellers bitter.

Expansion of domestic operation

Until 1984, Bangladesh had only one international airport and one airline. At present, aviation activities are being carried out from 3 international and 5 domestic airports. Four local airlines_ national carrier Biman and three other local private airlines, are operating services on domestic.

It may be recalled that in 1993, the government in its bid to catch up with the rest of the world, decided to allow private airlines to operate, restricting to selected domestic routes and Short Take-off and Landing (STOL) aircraft.

However, few years later in 1996, the government decided to withdrew the restrictions, imposed earlier and allowed the private airlines to operate on any domestic routes using any aircraft.

A look at the short and troubled history of the private airlines will show that the rate of survival of private airlines of Bangladesh is comparatively very low. Since, the opening of airline industry to private sector, more private airlines have gone out of operation than the number now flying.

This far, six airlines_ Aero Bengal, Air Parabat, Royal Bengal Airways, Best Air, GMG and United Airways_ have gone out of business and become history. Only latest three_ Regent Airways, NovoAir and US-Bangla Airline_ are in operation.

Domestic air network

It may be recalled that the World War-II indirectly helped brought modern aviation to Bangladesh. Civil Aviation in Bangladesh developed around military airstrips, built by British in early 1940s for the purpose of the war. End of the war, saw these airports abandoned.

Following the creation of Pakistan in 1947, these abandoned airports, formed the _By Raquib Siddiqi

Dhaka : Air Transport is the most convenient mode of transportation in the twenty_ first century and its attraction is increasing day by day.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) expects 7.8 billion passengers to travel in 2036; a near doubling of the 4 billion air travellers flew in 2016. The prediction is based on a 3.6 per cent average Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR).

Keeping pace with global trend, Bangladesh market-both international and domestic_ has also increased. But poor infrastructure in all the domestic airports in the country is making experience of domestic air travellers bitter.

Expansion of domestic operation

Until 1984, Bangladesh had only one international airport and one airline. At present, aviation activities are being carried out from 3 international and 5 domestic airports. Four local airlines_ national carrier Biman and three other local private airlines, are operating services on domestic.

It may be recalled that in 1993, the government in its bid to catch up with the rest of the world, decided to allow private airlines to operate, restricting to selected domestic routes and Short Take-off and Landing (STOL) aircraft.

However, few years later in 1996, the government decided to withdrew the restrictions, imposed earlier and allowed the private airlines to operate on any domestic routes using any aircraft.

A look at the short and troubled history of the private airlines will show that the rate of survival of private airlines of Bangladesh is comparatively very low. Since, the opening of airline industry to private sector, more private airlines have gone out of operation than the number now flying.

This far, six airlines_ Aero Bengal, Air Parabat, Royal Bengal Airways, Best Air, GMG and United Airways_ have gone out of business and become history. Only latest three_ Regent Airways, NovoAir and US-Bangla Airline_ are in operation.

Domestic air network

It may be recalled that the World War-II indirectly helped brought modern aviation to Bangladesh. Civil Aviation in Bangladesh developed around military airstrips, built by British in early 1940s for the purpose of the war. End of the war, saw these airports abandoned.

Following the creation of Pakistan in 1947, these abandoned airports, formed the foundation of civil aviation in the then East Pakistan, now Bangladesh.

In the early 1950s_ during Pakis-tan period_ Chittagong, Sylhet. and Jessore airports became an important part of domestic civil aviation. Later, Chittagong and Sylhet were transformed into international airport, but necessity of development of Jessore Airport was ignored.

In Bangladesh, at present there are three international airports_ Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka; Shah Amanat International Airport in Chitta-gong and Osmani International Airport in Sylhet.

In addition there are five operating domestic airports in Jessore, Cox's Bazar, Rajsha-hi, Saidpur and Barisal.

The number of carriers operating in domestic market of Bangladesh has grown from one state-owned player-Biman Bangladesh Airlines_ in 1993 to four now, with three more private airlines_ Regent Airways, Novo Air and US-Bangla Airlines. Biman reentered domestic market in 2014.

The statistics regarding passenger traffic, cargo volume and aircraft movement in domestic market in the past five years will give a fairly clear picture about the healthy state of the market and its growing trend.

Passenger traffic

In 2013, the number of domestic traffic was 6,48,019. The number increased to 6,85,198 in 2014, to 9,12,644 in 2015, to 10,03,031 in 2016 and 10,67,537 in 2017.

The figure will prove how healthy the air travel market of the country is. From combined domestic and international traffic of little over half a million in 1972, the number has gone beyond five million domestic air traffic number has exceeded one million.

Expansion of frequency

In 2013 airlines operated a total of 12,526 flights to different domestic routes. The number increased to 14,127 in 2014, to 32,212 in 2015, to 38,020 in 2016 and to 38,057 in 2017.

The credit of healthy growth of air connectivity in domestic market goes to private airlines of the country. During the earlier decades, national flag carrier Biman Bangladesh Airlines was the lone carrier in the market and number of flights to most of the domestic airports was one.

Impact of private airlines

Entry of private airlines in the market saw , expansion of network. healthy growth of frequency as well as passenger.

At present, four carriers_ Biman, Regent, Novoair and US-Bangla_ fly to seven domestic routes out of Dhaka to Chittagong, Jessore, Sylhet, Cox's Bazar, Rajshahi, Saidpur and Barisal_ with the Dhaka-Chittagong route seeing the most traffic flow, followed by Dhaka-Jessore.

Following entry of private airlines in the market, national flag carrier Biman restricted its domestic operation only Dhaka-Chittagong and Dhaka-Sylhet routes. In 2012-13, the airline operated only 468 flights on these two domestic routes. In 2013-14, the number of flights was slightly reduced to 462.

After re-entering domestic market in 2014-15 with flights to Jessore, Cox's Bazar, Rajshahi, Saidpur and Barisal, domestic flight frequency of Biman shoot up to 1,380, to 4,868 in 2015-16 and to 7,098 in 2016-17.

Of the new destinations Jessore received the highest, 118 flights in 2014-15, 622 in 2015-16 and 726 in 2016-17.

Of the seven domestic destinations from Dhaka, only US-Bangla and Biman are operating schedule flights to all Destinations. Novo Air is third and Regent is the last.

Daily flights

US-Bangla is at present operating six daily flights to Chittagong, three to Jessore,

Three to Saidpur, one to Sylhet and two to Cox's Bazar. In addition, the airline operate three weekly flights to Barisal and six weekly flights to Rajshahi.

Biman operates five daily flights to Chittagong, one to Jessore, one to Saidpur, one plus to Sylhet and one to Cox's Bazar. In addition, the airline operates two weekly flights to Barisal and four weekly flights to Rajshahi.

NovoAir has five daily flights to Chittagong, three to Jessore, three to Saidpur, one to Sylhet and three to Cox's Bazar. The airline has no flight to Barisal and Rajshahi.

Regent is now operating four daily flights to Chittagong, two to Saidpur and two to Cox's Bazar. It has no flights to Jessore, Sylhet, Barisal and Rajshahi.

Poor infrastructure

Through privatisation of air transportation in Bangladeshi the Government has opened up a new horizon, but has not taken necessary follow-up measures to guide and support the nascent industry.

In the absence of proper up-gradation as required, CAAB is operating with manpower and equipment, sanctioned more than three decades ago in 1984, when the work load was considerably far less than what it is now.

This situation had forced CAAB to compromise the service quality and function with weaknesses and shortcomings in domestic air services of the country and that resulted in the unstable condition of private airline industry. It is nearly two decades ago, private airlines entered aviation market in Bangladesh. Yet, private airlines are still struggling and searching for solid ground.

It is relevant to mention here that before emergence of private airlines, CAAB used to handle, only one carrier-government owned Biman Bangladesh Airlines. The workload and manpower requirement of CAAB was comparatively much low. The workload multiplied and diversified with the operation of private airlines in both domestic and international sectors.

Development ignored

The existing facilities at most of the domestic airports-both landside and airside areas-were built to serve the traffic of just one DC-3 or F-27 or F-28 or ATP flights a day. In the decades between 1950s and 1980s, the airport handled once a day, flight of one of these small commercial aircraft.

Passenger load during the decades, mentioned above was low. As available seat capacity was also low. Thus the facilities, the airports had at that time, were enough for the number of passenger traffic.

But thing started changing with the advent of private airlines in the decade of 1990s. With the start of flight operations by number of private airlines, domestic airports got great boost to capacity_ as a result demand increased significantly.

In recent years, traffic-both passenger and cargo_ of all the airports has registered significant growth and showing further growth potentials. But unfortunately facilities have failed to keep pace. As a result, travellers are suffering due to lack of basic facilities.

Lack of facilities

The present terminal building was constructed decades ago when only daily one flight and occasionally two flights used to use the airport. The airport has no important basic facilities like arrival hall and language delivery system.

Luggage are delivered in open space, outside the terminal building. So, adverse weather condition increase plight of travellers to a great extent.

The existing terminal buildings are too small even to accommodate passengers of more than two flights of small domestic aircraft, at a time.

Even, the runway of the airports except Dhaka, Chittagong, Sylhet and Cox's Bazar_ is not long and strong enough to handle comparatively small aircraft like Boeing B737, now operated by most of the domestic airlines.

The terminal facilities for domestic air travellers in almost all the airports of the country are very poor.

Except Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet condition existed in all other domestic airports are similarly poor. These airports are suffering from neglect and now devoid of providing basic facilities for the movement of passengers and cargo traffic.

Cargo movement

Along with growth in passenger traffic, air cargo has also registered significant growth and has great potentials. From only 802 metric tons in 2013, the volume of cargo has increased to 4,743 metric tons in 2017.

With the introduction of prawn culture in greater Khulna area, flower cultivation in greater Jessore and industrial commodities in greater Kushtia , the volume of air cargo movement has increased greatly.

In addition to growth in passenger movement, presently everyday three to four cargo aircraft with prawn fries are moving between Coxes Bazar and Jessore for quick delivery to the growers in Satkhira and Bagerhat.

Shipments of fresh flowers, vegetables, fruits and some industrial commodities are also recording healthy growth in recent years at Jessore airport.

Unfortunately, however cargo handling capacity and facilities at domestic airports including Jessore and Cox's Bazar are close to zero.

Had there been proper handling facilities, shipment of fresh products like flowers, fruits, vegetables and fish, poultry and other perishable agro-based product, would get great boost from all the domestic airports.

Great potentials

There is hardly any doubt that domestic airports in general and Jessore Airport in particular, has great development potentials and could be turned as air hub of the respective region of the country.

It is really sad that at present there is no air access to outside world including neighbouring India and Nepal for the people of entire Khulna, Rajshahi and Rangpur divisions.

Up-graded airports can serve as important catalyst for regional economic growth, enhancing the economic performance of other sectors and facilitating the inward investment in services, products and tourism that helps communities to flourish.

There is hardly any disagreement that up-gradation of domestic airports, will facilitate regional community to be part of the national economic and social fabric.

This far, the question of up gradation has failed to get the attention it deserved and end result is that the airports are in deplorable condition.

Proper development of all the domestic airports of the country has now become a must for the interest of domestic air travellers and greater economic development of the country.

Time has come to end the neglect immediately and start proper development of the airports-both landside and airside_ so that the airport can handle larger aircraft and handle passenger and cargo traffic with better facilities.