Battle in domestic air travel to heat up
The domestic aviation sector is set to heat up as US-Bangla Airlines, a joint venture private carrier, aims to spread its wings in April.
The airline has acquired two Q400 turboprop planes made by Canada's Bombardier Aerospace to launch its operation.
“We want to provide fast and comfortable experience to the air travellers. We aim to start our domestic flights at the end of April,” said Akhtar Ahmed, director for sales and marketing of the airline.
Though the airline will fly on the domestic routes initially, it has a plan to open new markets and create greater connectivity in the region, Mohammed Abdullah Al Mamun, managing director of the carrier, said in a statement.
The new airline plans to enter the domestic market at a time when the national flag carrier, Biman Bangladesh Airlines, also aims to resume flights on all domestic routes within this year.
Air travel has been registering a steady growth over the last couple of years for two reasons: higher economic growth of the country and long tailbacks on roads, said Kazi Wahidul Alam, an aviation expert.
Corporate travellers have business urgency to meet and cannot afford to waste time through a road or rail journey, he added.
The country will also witness a significant growth in domestic air travel in the coming years as the government is set to fast-track six mega projects involving $15.5 billion, he said.
The projects are Padma bridge, a deep-sea port, a metro rail, 1,320-megawatt Rampal power plant, 1,000MW Rooppur nuclear power plant, and an LNG terminal for importing liquid gas.
“There will be an increased mobility of foreign experts and officials due to the projects,” said Alam, also editor of the Bangladesh Monitor, a fortnightly travel and tourism magazine.
Currently, the local carriers fly mainly on four domestic routes out of Dhaka -- Chittagong, Cox's Bazar, Sylhet and Jessore -- with the Dhaka-Chittagong route having the highest traffic flow, followed by Dhaka-Jessore.
Domestic air travel rose 11.58 percent year-on-year in 2012, when some 589,108 people travelled on the domestic routes, according to Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh.
Currently, United Air is carrying the highest number of passengers on the domestic routes. Besides, Novoair celebrated its first year of operations last month with a record of 97.3 percent on-time departures in more than 4,500 flights, carrying 150,000 people across five major cities.
A lack of skilled manpower is the main challenge for the airlines now, said aviation analyst Alam. He urged the private carriers to give more focus on their workforce development.
At present, three local carriers -- United Airways, Regent Airways and Novoair -- operate flights on the domestic routes.
US-Bangla has also business in real estate, leather, education, pharmaceuticals, agro, media and furniture.