• Thursday, November 27, 2014

Biman sitting idle with large planes

6 Boeing aircraft underutilised due to lack of long route operations

Shariful Islam

All six Boeing 777s of Biman remain underutilised for lack of long-haul flights and pilots, causing the national carrier to lose crores of taka every year.

“More than 20 percent of the operational capacity of the planes remain unutilised, as we could not open routes in line with their capacity,” an official at Biman's operations department told The Daily Star on condition of anonymity.

The calculation was made given that each of the six aircraft flies 12 hours a day, the official said.

Sometimes, a shortage of pilots forces them to keep the planes grounded. For example, Biman has to keep a new Boeing 777-300ER on standby four days a week, he said.

Biman would not have faced such a situation had it followed the commercial plan devised with the help of the Boeing Company in 2007, said a former managing director of Biman.

The national carrier decided to buy 10 aircraft from the US plane maker the same year.

It has already purchased four Boeing 777-300ERs, and also leased two Boeing 777-200ERs from Egypt Air for five years.

Though the plan recommended operating long-haul flights to Frankfurt, New York,

 

Brussels, Manchester and Tokyo to ensure optimum use (minimum 14 hours a day) of the new aircraft, Biman now flies only on the Dhaka-London and Dhaka-Rome-Frankfurt routes that take over nine hours each way.

The plan, authenticated by KPMG, a global network of professional firms, and the Institute of Business Administration of Dhaka University, also suggested launching flights to new destinations such as Sydney, Manila, Kunming, Toronto, Jakarta and Milan.

The plan also advised Biman to recruit six pilots every six months or at least 10 pilots a year to cope with the shortage of pilots. But the national carrier has not recruited any pilots in the last four years, said Biman officials.

The Biman board's high-handed attitude and its lack of knowledge of commercial airlines were the main reasons behind the non-implementation of the plan, they added.

They also alleged that some corrupt Biman officials, in their own interest, had convinced the top management not to follow the plan.

Cashing in on the shortage of pilots, the vested group indulges in corruption in appointments, transfers and retirement of pilots, they alleged.

According to Bangladesh Airlines Pilots Association, every Boeing 777 requires seven sets of pilots. Each set is composed of a captain and a co-pilot or first officer, meaning six Boeing 777s require 42 sets of pilots or 84 cockpit crew.

But Biman now has 49 pilots -- 24 captains, including nine foreigners, and 25 first officers, including two expatriates.

Despite the acute shortage of pilots, Biman sends its experienced pilots on retirement at the age of 57. However, government service rules put the retirement age at 59.

Moreover, the national carrier is hiring foreign pilots for almost double the salary of local pilots to deal with the crisis. In some cases, it has hired foreign pilots who were above the age of 57.

Biman now plans to recruit 12 more foreign pilots to operate hajj flights in August, said officials.

A top Biman official said the carrier had tried to increase landing slots to seven from three a week at Heathrow airport in London, but failed.

Biman also tried to raise the number of flights to Jeddah to seven from five and to Riyadh to five from four. But the Saudi authorities were not willing to give the slots, he added.

Moreover, the national carrier cannot operate flights to the US, as the US Federal Aviation Administration downgraded the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh to Category-2. The US aviation authorities allow only those aircraft that are registered with Category-1 countries.

Biman had stopped operating flights to New York in 2006 owing to huge losses on the route.

AM Mosaddique Ahmed, acting managing director of Biman, recently told The Daily Star that they were trying to increase flights on some routes to make sure that the planes were properly utilised.

Wishing anonymity, a former managing director of Biman said it was not wise on the part of Biman to lease two Boeing 777-200ERs from Egypt Air since the aircraft are used for non-stop and long-haul flights.

It would have been much better if Biman had leased some planes suitable for short and medium haul flights, said the ex-official.

Published: 12:01 am Monday, July 28, 2014

Last modified: 10:18 pm Monday, July 28, 2014

TAGS: aircraft Biman sitting route operations Boeing 777s

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