Time is money, for many industrialists and top executives. But given the poor road communication in Bangladesh, inordinate amount of time is wasted on the road.
Sensing this business opportunity, in 1999, South Asian Airlines (SAA) rolled out commercial helicopter service -- a first in Bangladesh.
Soon, many others joined SAA, and today there are 11 private helicopter service providers in Bangladesh, including Square Air, Bangla International Airlines (BIAL), Impress Aviation, BRB Air, R&R Aviation, Meghna Aviation, Partex Aviation, Bashundhara Airways, Winux Helicopter Service and BCL Aviation.
However, none of the operators are yet to become profitable thanks to the high operating costs and insufficient number of passengers.
It costs Tk 65,000 (excluding value-added tax and supplementary duty) to charter a helicopter for an hour and Tk 5,000 for each additional hour of ground waiting.
The operators get booking for 10 to 12 flights per month, which is not enough to make profit or come to break even.
The price of the helicopters ranges between $1 million and $7.5 million and the maintenance cost is about Tk 20 lakh per month excluding the salary for pilot and staff.
The demand for helicopters edged up in recent years among the power plant constructors, said Chowdhury Fazle Sohan, manager (operations) of SAA.
Other than that, industrialists and top executives charter helicopters to make factory visits outside of Dhaka.
Ministers and secretaries also use helicopters to attend different government programmes and come back to Dhaka on the same day, said Syed Shakhawat Kamal, director of operations of Square Air, a concern of Square Group.
Square Air, which has a fleet of three four-seater helicopters and two six-seaters, also operates air ambulance.
Expatriate Bangladeshis also hire helicopter to go to their native village, according to a senior official of BIAL, a joint venture of Union Group and PHP Family.
“Helicopter service is not commercially viable due to a lot of restrictions on flying and landing,” said Mizanur Rahman Bhuiyan, chief of flight safety of Partex Aviation.
A permit from the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh is needed for flying, which is a time-consuming process. And there is no guarantee that the permit would come through.
The permit must be in place two days’ before flying.
“As a result, the corporate sector’s interest in booking helicopters is waning. They go through uncertainty after placing a booking, so they are opting for choppers less and less,” Bhuiyan added.
Md Khalid Hossain, member (operations and planning) of CAAB, said clearances from 2-3 intelligence agencies and police are needed along with documentation demonstrating safety of the site where the helicopter would be landing before they hand out permits.
“This takes time. And we have no option but to comply with the rules,” he added.
As a result, it is not possible to get maximum utilisation of the fleet, said ASM Mustafizul Haque, chief operating officer of Bashundhara Airways, which introduced helicopter service four months ago.