Biman enters Dreamliner era, but no effective route planning

- By Raquib Siddiqi 01 Sep, 2018 | 930 Views | - +
Dhaka : Biman Bangladesh Airlines Limited (Biman) has received the first ultra modern fuel efficient Boeing 787 Dreamliner on August 19.

On that day, the national flag carrier got its first Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner as it reached Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport (HSIA). Water cannons salute was given to welcome the new addition to the fleet.

Present at the airport to receive, the newest aircraft, among others, were Chairman of Biman's Board of Directors Air Marshal Muhammad Enamul Bari (Retd)_ who led a team to Seattle to receive the aircraft, Managing Director and CEO AM Mosaddique Ahmed, Chairman of Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh Air Vice Marshal M Naim Hassan and senior Biman officials.

The aircraft reached HSIA, the gateway to Bangladesh by air from the USA after a 14-hour uninterrupted journey. The flight was operated by Boeing Captains Richard M Denton, Captain Charlie Christensen and from Biman Captain Fazal and First Officer Anita Rahman.

For long distance

Boeing 787 Dreamliner is an ideal long distance aircraft. In 2011, Boeing delivered the first 787 Dreamliner to its launch customer and the aircraft entered into service. The 787 family reduces fuel use and Co2 emission by 20 to 30 per cent and has a 60 per cent smaller noise footprint that the models they replace.

Because of its fuel efficiency, the 787 can fly further than its predecessors-about 16 hours at stretch - and has opened more than 50 new non-stop routes around the world.

What is truly innovative about the Dreamliner, is the way it is constructed. New, lightweight composite materials make up half of the 787's primary structure, including the fuselage and wing. The aircraft's wing design and construction enable speed and fuel efficiency.

Dreamliners of Biman has capacity of 271 seat_ 247 in economy class and 24 in business class.

The 787 is powered by new, more fuel efficient models of jet engines produced by General Electric and Rolls-Royce.

Situation not favourable

It is certainly very good and welcome news. But unfortunately the existing situation does not permit Biman to use the aircraft properly and profitably.

Down with only 15 international destinations_ all in Asia except one in London-Biman, at the moment, has only one-London_ proper route for the long distance aircraft, like B787. The possibility of having more proper destination soon, also seems to be remote.

In the past, Biman used to operate flights to 26 destinations in North America, Europe, Africa and Asia, including New York, Brussels, Paris, Amsterdam, Athens, Rome, Milan, Manchester, Frankfurt, Lon-don, Tripoli and Narita. But now except London, all other routes have gone from the network.

No operational plan

For this deplorable situation, Biman and relevant government agencies are to blame. They failed to take proper action. In 2008, Biman Bangladesh Airlines signed a US$2.1 billion agreement with Boeing Company to purchase 10 new aircrafts-- four Boeing 777-300, two Boeing 737-800 and four Boeing 787-8s. The four Boeing 777-300ER and two Boeing 737-800 have joined the fleet and are in operation.

The first one of the four Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner has just been delivered. The second one is scheduled to be deliver by November this year and the last two Dreamliner will be delivered by September 2019.

It is strange to see Biman failing to develop operational plans for the use of new aircraft-specially Boeing 787-8, as these are aircraft not meant for short distance regional routes.

At the time of placing the order for 10 aircraft_ about a decade ago_ Biman envisaged a bright new era with new fleet, new brand image and identity and new management.

But unfortunately, following induction of elected government in 2009, the efforts to provide_ new identity, induct professional management and infuse skilled manpower_ to make Biman a modern and efficient airline were abandoned. Thus the bright prospect of the new era dimmed.

Immediate plan

With no longer route except one in the network, Biman authority has announced plan to operate commercial flights with the first Dreamliner on the Dhaka-Kuala Lumpur and Dhaka-Singapore routes.

Chairman of Biman told newsmen that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is expected to inaugurate the first flight of the Dreamliner on September 1 to Kuala Lumpur.

Operation on longer routes is going to be a tough exercise as the airline is not in a position to create longer routes, except to London right now.

Biman has a plan to re-open New York and open new destinations like Toronto in Canada and Sydney in Australia with the four Dreamliners_ Akashbeena, Hangsobalaka, Gangchil and Rajhangsha. But how and when the plan can be executed, is uncertain.

Many hurdles ahead

Execution of this plan is also not going to be easy. London is the only long distance destination now existing in Biman route. But there is slot problem in Heathrow and possibility of use Boeing 787-8 on the route is only limited-only four flights a week.

As an alternative, Biman is considering operation of B787-8 on Sylhet-London route to tackle slot problem. But, unfortunately at the moment runway at Sylhet airport is not long enough for 787-8's takeoff.

New York operation cannot be resumed and Toronto flight cannot be started due to down gradation of Harzat Shahjalal International Airport (HSIA) to Category-2.

As per opening of new route to Sydney or other destinations, Biman will need to open route without any sort of market study-an unacceptable proposition in airline industry.

With the delivery of aircraft, the repayment of loan has assumed great importance. If Biman fails to earn enough to cover loan installments, what will happen? No contingency plan in this regard has been made this far.

Not so wise decision

It must the noted here that, although a Dreamliner can fly 16 hours at a stretch and is fit for a long route, it will take less than four hours to reach the destinations like Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, which according to experts will not be commercially viable.

The decision to operate Boeing 787-8 on short regional routes like Kuala Lumpur and Singapore is being considered by experts as unwise. This is going to cut short the life cycle of the aircraft drastically. This is also going to incur unnecessary huge financial burden due to much early maintenance costs.

From operational and financial point of view, operation of Boeing 787-8 is widely considered as grossly wrong.

It must also be noted that this far, Biman was operating Boeing 737-800 on these two routes and need around 170 seats to sell. But the airline never achieved high load factor on there routes. With introduction of B787-8 Biman is increasing capacity on the route by about 100 seats per flight. So, it would be a great challenge to get profitable load factor.

Cut short life of aircraft

It may be noted that for an airplane, it's not the absolute number of years that contributes to its age. Instead, the airline industry uses a concept known as "pressurisation cycles" to keep tabs on the effective lifespan of aircraft.

The manufacturer determines the lifespan of aircraft. The age is calculated based on pressurisation cycles. As a rule of thumb, each cycle involves "takeoff/landing."

Fuselage and wings suffer stress from pressurisation, including on "short hauls."

Airlines follow manufacturer's directions for "trouble free" maintenance.

Even though it's not completely accurate, the most basic explanation of determining aircraft's lifespan is this: the number of takeoffs and landings ultimately decide how long an airplane lasts. The more an aircraft is used, the more pressure the structure endures and the closer the craft gets to reach its maximum service.

The fuselage is most susceptible to fatigue, but the wings are too, especially on short hauls where an aircraft goes through pressurisation cycles every day." Aircraft used on longer flights experience fewer pressurisation cycles, and can last more than 20 years. "There are 747s out there that are 25 or 30 years old."

It is evident from the above facts that operation of Boeing 787-8 on short haul route is going to make the life the aircraft considerably short. So, the decision to operate on short haul destination like Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, and that too for indefinite time, cannot be termed as wise-from the point of view of Biman's greater interest.

Expensive maintenance

Airlines are really relying on the manufacturer's maintenance programmes. The manufacturers design the aircraft to be trouble-free for a certain period of time. There are maintenance actions to preclude any catastrophic failures, but that's not to say that the aircraft might not [experience metal fatigue] before those times…. When you get to a certain point [in the aircraft's lifespan], you need to inspect or replace certain parts.

Maintenance of aircraft is extremely expensive with cost of parts like landing gear run into millions of dollar.

Need is vigorous efforts

To enable Biman to ride over the current predicament, all out vigorous efforts with goal to achieve results in shortest possible time, is need of the hour.

Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism (MOCAT) and Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) have great role to play in helping Biman to restore Dhaka-New York route and opening routes to Canada and Australia.

Recently, Chairman of CAAB told journalists that an audit team from Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of USA is scheduled to visit the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport at the end of this year for an audit and inspection. Before that CAAB must fulfill all the conditions given by FAA for restoring HSIA's Category-1 status.

Biman and responsible government agencies must also join hands to conclude necessary formalities to create new long distance routes for Biman and marketing those.

Not in isolation

There is no doubt that to tackle the existing situation and put the airline on right track, Biman is in need of leadership with above average professional capability.

Considering situation prevailing in Biman, we strongly feel that Biman needs much more than just a professional dynamic CEO. Nothing good is going to happen without actions to improve situation, in other critical areas like induction of professional management and proper manpower.

It may be recalled that when Biman was made a Public Limited Company during the rule of immediate past Caretaker Government, a package actions was planned to put Biman on right track. Modernisation of fleet, installation of professional management, appointment of professional CEO, induction of quality manpower was in the package, among others.

But professional management is missing and manpower situation is still very poor. So, what a new professional CEO even if he is very competent, can achieve in the existing situation?

There is urgent need of business plan to turn round Biman. It is certain that more delay will diminish the chance of success more, as Biman is in precarious position on all counts.

Biman now has made huge investment in new aircraft. With modern aircraft joining the fleet, skilled and efficient workforce is needed to ensure quality services, efficiency and profitability. But situation is just the opposite and can be termed as alarming.

The need is immediate corrective measures to save the national flag carrier from fatal damage.

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