Biman has started operating flights to Saudi Arabia while Saudia has increased the number of its weekly flights from Dhaka, offering some relief to around 55,000 stranded Bangladeshi migrants seeking to go back to work in the Gulf country.
Biman Bangladesh Airlines got permission from the Saudi authorities to operate nine (chartered) flights to Dammam, Jeddah and Riyadh every week from Thursday, Group Captain Chy M Zia Ul Kabir, member (flight standard and regulations) of Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (Caab), told The Daily Star yesterday.
Around 3,000 migrant workers, stranded in Bangladesh due to the coronavirus restrictions, will be able to reach Saudi Arabia every week in those nine flights, said sources at the airlines.
Zia Ul Kabir said initially Biman would operate nine flights a week from October 1 to 24.
"…. We can consider these flights as some sort of regular flights as the Saudi authorities have already given Biman the landing permission in advance," he said.
In another development, Caab has allowed Saudia, formally known as Saudi Arabian Airlines, to operate four more flights from Dhaka every week, Caab Chairman Air Vice Marshal M Mafidir Rahman told this correspondent.
At present, the national flag carrier of Saudi Arabia operates four flights from Dhaka a week.
The Caab chief also said they were ready to give permission to Saudia to operate as many flights as they wanted.
The eight Saudia flights will fly 2,500 passengers a week, said sources at the airlines.
Talking to The Daily Star, a top Saudia official said taking the rush of Saudi-bound passengers in consideration, they would also operate several chartered flights from Dhaka to the KSA.
At least 55,000 Bangladeshi expatriates have been waiting to board Saudi Arabia-bound flights since the pandemic struck international flight operations.
Of the passengers, about 25,000 have return tickets of Biman and about 30,000 have return tickets of Saudi Arabian Airlines, said officials of the two airlines.
There were several other foreign airlines which, before the pandemic, would carry a significant number of passengers from Dhaka to different destinations in the Kingdom via stopovers in other countries, said sources at the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport.
The airlines are Kuwait Airways, Etihad Airways, Emirates, Air Arabia and Gulf Air.
But they are yet to start carrying Saudi-bound passengers.
Since the resumption of flight operations by Saudi Airlines on September 23, expatriate Bangladeshis rushed to sales offices of Biman and Saudi Arabian Airlines in the capital to ensure re-issuance of their return tickets to Saudi Arabia.
Almost every day since the resumption of the flight operations to the KSA, several hundred expatriate workers gathered in front of the offices of Saudia and Biman, hoping to be able to return to their workplaces.
They fear they might lose their jobs if they fail to return to Saudi Arabia before their visas and Iqama expires.
Late last month, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said the Saudi government had agreed to increase the tenure of visa and Iqama of Bangladeshi workers until October 17.
Home to more than 22 lakh Bangladeshis, Saudi Arabia is also the prime destination of Bangladeshi migrant workers and the biggest remittance-generating country for Bangladesh.