The Covid-19 second wave has ravaged the commercial aviation at a time when it was trying to bounce back, braving the financial losses caused by the first wave, aviation experts and top airlines officials said yesterday.
They also said the second wave came as "the final nail in the coffin" for some airlines and demanded that the government waive different aeronautical, non-aeronautical and other charges for now so that the airlines can survive.
They made the demand at a webinar titled "Bangladesh Aviation Sector Amid Pandemic: Challenges and Way Out", organised by Aviation and Tourism Journalists' Forum.
The speakers said 10 airlines went out of business over the years and two others were somehow continuing it despite facing various obstacles.
Novoair Managing Director Mofizur Rahman said, "The second wave of the Covid-19 has hit the aviation sector like the last nail in its coffin."
But different aeronautical, non-aeronautical and other charges, imposed by the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (Caab), continue to remain much higher than those in neighboring countries, he said.
The MD also said the sector was facing several other obstacles, including delays in the import of spare parts of aircraft and several customs-related problems.
He then demanded that the Caab and the ministry concerned take necessary measures immediately to remove those obstacles, which were standing in the way of the sector's recovery.
"Due to various efforts in the last 20 years, the aviation sector has reached its present state. This sector has now been hit hard by the Covid-19 and it will not survive without policy and other support from the government," he pointed out.
Mofizur further demanded that the government spare them from paying different charges for now considering the sorry state of their business amid the pandemic. "Allow us time to pay the current charges. We will pay all those charges as arrears when the situation becomes normal. We will be able to survive if these things are done."
Abdullah Al Mamun, managing director of US-Bangla Airlines, said although the flights on different international routes remained suspended for over a year, the airlines were bound to pay a huge amount of money to Caab in different charges.
He said local airlines were in a sorry state at present.
While explaining the issue, he said US-Bangla Airlines, one of the leading private carriers, has lost 70 percent of its capacity on international routes and 54 percent on the domestic routes.
"Before the Covid-19, we used to operate 36 flights a day. The number now stands at 18, Mamun said. "Under these circumstances, it's impossible for us to survive."
He said so far 10 airlines have shut down over the years. "We are not sure how long we will be able to survive if you have to continue giving huge amounts in subsidies. Maybe someday, we too have to walk down that path [closing down business] if things don't change," he said.
Mamun said they had been demanding waiver in aeronautical, non-aeronautical and different other charges for the last seven to eight years. But the authorities concerned are yet to pay heed to their demand.
He also said they have to pay Tk 7 to 8 crore in aeronautical charges per month, which is a huge burden on them. "We will be able to survive if those charges are waived for now."
Kazi Wahidul Alam, an aviation expert, said it would be hard for the country's airlines to survive without policy and revenue support of the government.
"Many famous airlines have become bankrupt due to the Covid-19 impact and our private airlines will not be able to survive if the government does not readjust the fuel price and aeronautical, non-aeronautical charges, he said.
Biman Managing Director and CEO Abu Saleh Mostafa Kamal said Biman has lost 43 percent capacity, causing huge losses. "Recently, we have purchased three brand new aircraft. Besides, five state-of-the-art technology equipped aircraft are lying idle. But we have to pay back loans and spend money for maintenance."
State Minister for Civil Aviation M Mahbub Ali said the aviation sector was passing through a very bad time at present due to the Covid-19.
"But the government must stand beside the airlines and will do whatever necessary so that the airlines can survive," he said.
Secretary of civil aviation ministry Md Mokammel Hossain said the government would give the highest priority on giving incentives to the sector so that it could move forward.
Hoping that the aviation sector will revive again, Caab Chairman Air Vice Marshal M Mafidur Rahman said he would discuss lowering various charges with stakeholders.