A forsaken territory | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 29, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:31 AM, March 29, 2020

A forsaken territory

Dhaka airport deserted as passenger flights remain suspended

A plane departing Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport is a rare sight these days, as the country's busiest airport has turned almost deserted due to air communication suspensions over global Covid-19 outbreak.

Around noon yesterday, the electronic display boards -- both at the airport's arrival and departure terminals -- were showing all but one upcoming flights have been cancelled.

The parking space in front of Terminal-2, usually crammed with cars, is gathering dust.

Some cleaners were seen sweeping the area.

"I have never seen the airport this empty before," said Mohammad Shahjahan, an electrician, who has been working at the airport for six years.

The arrival floor of the airport, that remained crowded 24 hours a day, has also been mostly deserted for the last few days, he added.

Normally around 28 airlines used to operate 130 flights carrying around 20,000 passengers to and from Dhaka on a daily basis, Air Vice Marshal M Mafidur Rahman, chairman, Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB), told this newspaper, recently.

However, an unprecedented situation has been unfolding in the aviation sector across the globe following the coronavirus outbreak -- declared a pandemic by World Health Organization.

The governments have also taken strict precautionary measures to restrict air communications.

Dhaka has kept only four of its international routes open -- the UK, China, Hong Kong and Thailand. 

Upon a visit to the Dhaka airport, this newspaper yesterday found that only a handful of security personnel and some staffers were on duty.

One or two vehicles arrived and departed the airport, most of which carried staffers and security men.

At the Dhaka airport's cargo complex as well, only a few staff members were seen working.

Talking to this newspaper, one of them said cargo handling has reduced drastically in the past few days, as traders who are responsible for receiving the imported goods, have not showed up.

The number of cargo flights -- both arrival and departure -- have also dipped, he said, preferring not to be named.

National airliner Biman Bangladesh Airlines has stopped operations on all 17 of its international routes.

Last week, the national flag carrier also suspended its operations to all the seven domestic routes for an indefinite period, said airport sources.

SUSPENSION OF FLIGHTS TO 10 COUNTRIES EXTENDED FOR A WEEK

The government yesterday extended the suspension of passenger flights to 10 countries till April 7.

Dhaka had suspended air communications with 10 countries till March 31 with effect from March 22, as a precautionary measure to stop the spread of coronavirus in the country.

The countries are Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Turkey, Malaysia, Singapore and India.

However, air communications with the UK, China, Hong Kong and Thailand will remain open, a press release of the civil aviation ministry said yesterday. 

Biman Bangladesh Airlines on Friday decided that it will suspend flights on its two remaining routes -- London and Manchester -- from March 30 till April 7, marking a temporary halt to all its flights.

The civil aviation ministry yesterday said suspension of all flights of the flag carrier on domestic routes has been extended for seven days up to April 7 from March 31.  

Biman will operate its next flights to London and Manchester today, and fly back to Dhaka on tomorrow, an official said.

As per the decision, Biman's flight suspension to Jeddah, Madina, Riyad, Dammam, Kuwait, Doha, Muscat and Bangkok have been extended till April 5, Abu Dhabi till April 7, Dubai till April 9, Singapore till April 11, Kathmandu till April 12, Kuala Lumpur till April 14 and Kolkata and Delhi till April 15.

However, air cargo operation to and from Dhaka will continue.

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