The ground handling services at Shahjalal International Airport are likely to be modernised within two years with special emphasis on the baggage handling system.
Now, passengers sometimes have to wait for 90 minutes to get luggage after landing but if the modernisation goes through properly, they could have their bags in 15 minutes.
The loss-incurring Biman, which has monopoly in ground handling services in Bangladesh, would now select a joint venture partner through a tender and then embark on the modernisation work.
The prime minister during a meeting with Biman officials in early May had given them the go-ahead for the project that would require between $10 and $15 million in investment.
The ground handling of aircraft is now entirely dependent on the Biman staff who load and unload cargo and luggage manually, drive them to the conveyor belts and place them on the carrousel one by one.
The service is believed to be one of the worst in the region. Often luggage is stolen and damaged and almost every day passengers are seen waiting at the carrousel for luggage, which sometimes never arrive.
At Kolkata international airport just across the border, passengers get their bags within 15 minutes of their arrival.
However, Biman, which is in the red, earns around Tk 300 crore from ground handling and cargo handling services and it considers this business its own lifeline.
“I would say ground handling [the service and infrastructure] at Dhaka, is extremely poor, amongst the worst in the whole region,” former Biman managing director Kevin Steele had observed before he quit in April.
“I feel ashamed of the poor ground handling … ,” he told The Daily Star before he left Bangladesh.
Steele last year took the initiative of teaming up with other parties for ground and cargo handling and invited Request for Information. Four internationally renowned companies have shown interest in the joint venture, visited the airport and made assessments.
The companies were Switzerland based Swissport International, Turkish company Çelebi Ground Handling Inc, Dubai based Dnata, and Group Europe Handling.
The company that would become Biman's partner would get the running cost and a portion of their capital investment by charging a management fee, Steele had said.
The ground and cargo handling would continue to be entirely owned by Biman.
Insufficient infrastructure and low-quality, outdated equipment are contributing to the poor ground handling services. Apart from passengers, many foreign airlines had been urging the authorities concerned to modernise ground handling.
A top ground handling staff said when 13 to 14 flights land in a couple of hours, the delay in passengers getting their bags get worse. If the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh spread out their landing schedules, the ground handling would be less troublesome.
Any move to upgrade the ground handling services has strongly been resisted by Biman's trade union so far.
The ground handling staff said some of the wide-body aircraft carry 26 to 30 containers of luggage and the Biman staff could unload four containers simultaneously. He said they could not place the luggage on conveyor belts efficiently due to insufficient space at baggage unloading bay.
“It requires 12 workers to do the job of unloading baggage on the conveyor belt, but we have only three to four. So it takes one to two hours to unload the baggage,” he added.
Sources said one of the main reasons for the poor service was that it was run by 700 staff against a requirement of around 1,100. Many of them lack efficiency and dedication.
According to Steele's plan, there would be no job loss.
Sources said the project would get momentum after Biman gets a new managing director. Biman now has an acting MD.