Biman's regular flights on all its 15 international routes are set to face disruptions as the airline will use four of its Boeing planes for hajj flights starting this morning.
Out of its small fleet of 13 aircraft, Biman Bangladesh Airlines operates two planes on its domestic and regional routes. The airlines would not be able to maintain flight schedule on the international routes with the remaining seven aircraft, said its insiders.
Besides, the national flag carrier is not allowed to fly newly-leased aircraft to Saudi Arabia as per a ban from the country.
Biman has already stopped selling tickets to Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam -- its most commercially viable destinations -- for the next two months, said the insiders, adding that the airline made the move fearing the flights would not run on schedule.
During hajj every year, Biman operates flights with leased aircraft and also suspends its operation on different international routes to ensure smooth flights for a large number of pilgrims from Bangladesh.
Still, the airline faces flight disruptions because of a shortage of aircraft.
Biman passengers travelling to different countries suffer due to irregular flight schedule. Every day, flights are usually delayed by 30 minutes to 2 hours.
The situation would get worse this time due to the Saudi ban, said the Biman insiders.
Recently, the Saudi authorities have said it will not allow Biman to fly any aircraft, taken on lease after June, to the oil-rich country. The Saudi authorities made the move over “safety reasons”.
Biman failed to bring new aircraft on lease before June mainly due to the troublesome tender procedures and “interests of middlemen”, Biman sources said.
In such a situation, a huge number of Bangladeshis, living in the Middle East, Malaysia and Singapore, are going to suffer while travelling to and from Bangladesh.
Last night, a Biman source confirmed that the airline has cancelled all its flights to Riyadh. The source said those who have already bought tickets would be flown to Dammam in another flight. Later, they would be taken to the Saudi capital in air-conditioned buses.
Meanwhile, at a recent press conference in Riyadh, a group of Bangladeshis demanded that Biman continue its operation on the Dhaka-Riyadh route as at least 12 lakh Bangladeshis work in the city.
They claimed that at least 2,500 Bangladeshi passengers travel on the route every day.
Contacted, Biman officials admitted that they were forced to reschedule flights on different routes to ensure smooth hajj flights.
They, however, expressed optimism that the problem would be fixed soon.
“In 90 percent of the cases, we will be able to maintain our regular flight schedule on the international routes. We are working to fix the problems in the rest,” said Shakil Meraj, general manager (public relations) of Biman.
He also said three leased Boeing aircraft has already reached Dhaka from Malaysia to join the Biman fleet.
Besides, another aircraft taken on lease from Boeing is likely to join the fleet from Angola within Monday, he said, adding, “We are trying to bring new aircraft on lease”.
“We hope that the disruption in flight schedule on different international routes will be resolved after the arrival of the four aircraft,” he said.
Currently, Biman owns four Boeing 777-300ER and two Boeing 737-800. The rest of the Biman aircraft are on lease. Of them, two are small Dash aircraft.
Asked about the Saudi bar, Shakil claimed that the Saudi authorities have agreed to allow Biman to run newly-leased aircraft to that country thanks to “relentless diplomatic efforts from the Bangladesh government”.
The Daily Star could not contact the Saudi authorities to verify the claim.
Asked about delays in Biman's schedule, Mohibul Haque, secretary in charge to the civil aviation ministry told The Daily Star that it was a failure on the airline's part that it could not maintain flight seclude during its hajj operation.
“I have joined the ministry just two and a half months ago. That's why it has not been possible for me to resolve the problem,” he said.
Kazi Wahidul Alam, an aviation expert, criticised Biman for its inefficiency in handling hajj flights, saying hajj operation is an annual event. “Why Biman will have to suspend or scrap its regular schedule on different international routes due to hajj flights?”
FIRST HAJJ FLIGHT
This year's first hajj flight is schedule to leave from Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport around 7:40am today, said Biman officials.
The airlines would carry 63,599 during its hajj operation ending on August 15, they added.