The recent changes in Biman have been brought about in such haste that it is blur to an observer. Whether these changes are really going to make positive impact on the future of Biman remains to be seen.
But honourable chief adviser, we are immensely worried that whatever is in plan for Biman may prove to be too little too late, unless every detail of the recovery plan has already been chalked out with defined time-frame within which to achieve them.
A look towards the jail will give anyone the idea why Biman is struggling for its existence today. All of the last three ministers in charge of the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism are behind bars. Sadly, many of the people who were behind the looting of Biman are still free and in business. Biman never enjoyed the love and respect of a national carrier from any of the previous governments.
"Losing," "inefficient," "corrupt," "over-staffed," these are the words I have frequently heard from every corner of the society, mostly from the people who are behind the organisation's present predicament. When was the last time Biman received a state financial grant?
In the recent past there was only one grant of Tk 150 crore against a legitimate demand of Tk 1,200 crore, Biman's dues from the government. Other than that I don't remember any other grant by the government. Without any investment how do we expect profit?
Contrary to popular belief, Biman probably was always in profit and the people in power were gobbling up a large chunk of that profit and more. They approved purchase of equipments to receive kickbacks and seldom for the benefit of Biman. Appointment of people like Mr. Mir Md. Nasiruddin as the minister for civil aviation and tourism sends out a message to everyone that the organisation is open for plunder.
And the question remains, how Mr. Shamim Eskander is still free after what has been published in the media about him, his wife, and his brother-in-law? We have seen the milking of Biman by him, how he will be brought to justice is up to the law enforcement agencies.
It is my request to you to trust the ability of the organisation to run efficiently. Appointment of an operator is unnecessary and an insult to our ability. Biman management is well capable of making full use of the immense potential of this sector in Bangladesh.
Let Biman independently shape its own future without any intervention from the government. If the ability of the management is considered inadequate, appoint a specialist CEO, or consultant(s). All Biman needs is an interest-free loan to pay down payment for purchase, lease with the option to purchase, and operational lease of at least ten new generation aircraft, and a state sovereign guarantee against the purchase options.
And, of course, total freedom and accountability in its management. Today Biman management does not have responsibility and authority, and as such, it is not accountable to the government and the people. This arrangement suited the corrupt governments but it has to change now.
Today the DC-10s are stressed to the limit. These aircrafts are made to fly more than 14 hours in a 24 hour cycle against a normal 10 to 11 hours. While machines are there to be used, they can be unforgiving to the people mishandling them. We are getting away with small and reversible incidents and occurrences, but if the warning signs are not respected, we may have to pay with our lives.
In almost every flight we encounter technical problems due to which flights are delayed. Airport authorities in Dubai, Jeddah, Riyadh, and Kuwait have already expressed their dissatisfaction over the inevitable delay of almost all Biman flights.
Regarding accountability, we are miles apart from that noble concept. Once inside an airplane, the passengers are our responsibility. What do we tell them about a delay in excess of two days? We do not tell them anything. We do not have words for the greatest of assets of this country, the foreign currency earners, who, despite all the harassments and possibility of visa expiry, choose to travel by their national airline.
Management doesn't have the resources, so they cannot be made accountable. We, the pilots, do not have a monthly schedule, and we fly on daily basis, so we cannot be made accountable. Only the poor passengers of the airline have to take the brunt of the negligence of the national carrier. Honourable chief adviser, this has to change. We are looking forward to your guidance in this respect.
With my inadequate knowledge regarding the business of aviation, I would request you to consider the following steps:
- Ask Biman management to contact either of the two major manufacturers, Airbus and/or Boeing for assistance in business plan and recovery strategy. All the major airlines are directly in business with either or both these manufacturers.
- Allocate adequate fund to implement a long-term business strategy based on pragmatic business solution. We must understand that the aviation industry is now experiencing a boom like the boom in garments sectors during the early eighties. For us it is now or never.
- Extend full authority to Biman management and demand results. Establish accountability.
- Extend state sovereign guaranty against arranged loans, and fund as much as practicable. (My inexperienced guess is that a state allocation of $200 million spread over the next two fiscal years shall be adequate to put Biman on a firm platform from where it can dictate terms in the business).
- Appoint specialist CEO or consultants, who can tap the right resources.
- Last but not the least, instruct the concerned authorities to take into consideration the interest of the national airline during all air service agreements. During the recent times Biman's interest has been ignored time and again.
Honourable chief advisor, here is an excerpt from William Wadsworth Longfellow: "Lives of great men all teach us/We can make our lives sublime/And, departing, leave behind us/Footprints on the sand the sands of time."
Inadequate people made inadequate choices in the past. Sir, let us rise above them and make a change.
Captain A.M. Maqsood Ahmed is a freelance contributor to The Daily Star.