Two years ago, direct air cargo flights by Biman to the UK was banned (only Biman had direct flights to the UK) as Dhaka's Hazrat Shahjalal Airport was deemed to be unsafe and declared a “red zone”. Other countries like Australia and Germany followed suit and the government appointed a British company to oversee the transformation of the security details at the airport. In the meantime, exporters have paid a heavy price as UK is the hub through which 54 percent of our exports head for the European Union. Exports had to be rerouted through third countries like Dubai, Qatar, Thailand and India adding both cost and shortening lead times considerably.
With the expected arrival of the British foreign minister on February 9 for a two-day visit where discussions on bilateral relations and Rohingyas are on the agenda, authorities are hopeful that the ban imposed by British authorities in March, 2016 will be lifted. The loopholes in safety have largely been addressed with the introduction of ETD (explosives trace detection) and other equipment, on top of the British company already appointed to screen outbound air cargo. Needless to say, the cargo ban has also hit the national carrier Biman badly. Before the ban the airline used to carry anywhere between 25-30 tonnes of goods and earn nearly Tk 5 million per-month from transporting air cargo. The RMG sector and vegetable exporters are the most adversely affected groups due to the ban. Given that conditions set by foreign countries have largely been met, it is time for a final review of Hazrat Shahjalal's security set up and take the airport off the “red zone” and lift the ban.