Biman's turnover hit by direct cargo ban to UK
Biman's cargo business shrank 22.54 percent last fiscal year on the back of the ban on direct freight flight from Dhaka to London.
In fiscal 2016-17, Biman earned Tk 244 crore from its cargo business in contrast to Tk 315 crore a year earlier. The state-run carrier transported 33,542 tonnes of cargoes last fiscal year, down 18 percent year-on-year.
The British government on March 8, 2016 slapped the ban on direct cargo flights from Dhaka to London after Biman failed to pass the safety and security tests.
“It is a huge loss for our country,” said Kazi Wahidul Alam, the editor of the Bangladesh Monitor, an aviation and tourism fortnightly.
Biman is the only carrier that operates direct flights between Dhaka and London and is now running four flights a week.
Before the ban, Biman used to earn Tk 40 lakh to Tk 50 lakh each flight from carrying cargoes: some 25 to 30 tonnes of cargoes, mostly apparel and vegetables, were shipped in each of the flights to London.
“We are losing in two ways due to the ban,” said Alam, also the managing director of Airspan, which represents different airlines as their passenger and cargo general sales agent.
First, the direct loss of business and second, almost all the other private and foreign airlines have increased the carrying charge because of the need to rescreen goods in a third country.
Now, the airlines charge between $2.65 and $2.70 for carrying a kilogram of goods from Dhaka to any destination in the EU. Even as recently as the middle of last year, the charge was $1.70 to $1.80.
The ban was supposed to be lifted in December, but the British government instead imposed 10 more terms and conditions after the current facilities left a British expert underwhelmed, Alam said.
As of now, the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh has set up the ETD (explosives trace detection) machine and deployed a British company for screening of the goods.
“Still the British government called for further improvement of the situation,” he added.
Shakil Meraj, general manager for public relations of Biman, acknowledged the substantial loss of business as a result of the ban by the UK government.
“Biman has direct flights only with London in Europe, so the UK ban has affected Biman negatively.”
Until 2007, the national flag carrier ran flights to Frankfurt, Amsterdam and a few other European cities. The routes were commercially not viable, so the flights were discontinued.
At present, Biman is carrying some cargoes to the EU through third-party airlines such as Emirates and Etihad but the amount is very little, Meraj said.
The EU, where more than 54 percent of Bangladesh's exports are headed, has declared the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport a 'red zone' due to insufficient safety and security measures, following the lead of the UK, Australia and Germany. With the ban in place, the EU-bound cargo airlines from Bangladesh have to rescreen goods in a third country, preferably Dubai, Qatar, Thailand and India.
As a result, it takes more time to carry goods from Bangladesh to London, exporters said.
“The government should launch intense diplomatic efforts for lifting the ban on direct cargo flights between Dhaka and London,” Alam added. Exporters take 1,000 tonnes of goods to the airport a day, of which nearly 700 tonnes are apparel items, according to industry insiders.