Local airlines yesterday saw an underwhelming response on the first day of the resumption of regular passenger flights on three domestic routes, following more than two months of flight suspension, sources at different airlines said.
The volume of passengers was so low that national flag carrier Biman Bangladesh Airlines was forced to cancel two of its flights on the Dhaka-Sylhet and Dhaka-Chattogram routes, Tahera Khandaker, deputy general manager (public relations) of Biman, told The Daily Star.
Following the shutdown enforced to curb the spread of coronavirus, the first post-shutdown flight of the national airliner left Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport (HSIA) for Saidpur at 7:45am with only four passengers on board, she said.
The return flight however carried 20 passengers, Tahera added.
Officials of HSIA said they have taken all preparations at the airport and are also carrying out monitoring activities so that passengers and others concerned follow the health guidelines.
For the two other private airlines -- US-Bangla Airlines and Novoair -- the number of outgoing and incoming passengers were slightly higher than Biman's.
The first post-shutdown flight of private air operator US-Bangla Airlines left Dhaka Airport for Chattogram at 7:00am with 28 passengers on board, Kamrul Islam, general manager (public relations) of US-Bangla Airlines, told The Daily Star.
Another US-Bangla flight left Dhaka for Saidpur at 8:30am with 51 passengers on board. The return flight had 54 passengers, said Kamrul Islam.
Novoair operated four flights as of 12:42pm -- from Dhaka to Saidpur with 40 passengers, two Chattogram flights with 38 and 30 passengers and one to Sylhet with 31 passengers, sources at the airport said.
The three airlines are scheduled to operate 24 daily round trips on three domestic routes to and from the capital.
Of the 24 daily flights, 11 will be on the Dhaka-Chattogram-Dhaka, nine on Dhaka-Saidpur-Dhaka, and four on Dhaka-Sylhet-Dhaka routes.
Biman and Novoair each will operate seven flights daily, while US-Bangla Airlines will conduct 10 daily flights on the three routes, sources in the airlines said.
"We will operate morning and evening flights to Chattogram and Sylhet and three flights to Saidpur daily from today using our Dash 8Q-400 aircraft," Tahera said.
US-Bangla Airlines will operate six daily flights to Chattogram, three to Saidpur and one to Sylhet.
Novoair said they would operate three flights each to Chattogram and Saidpur, and one flight to Sylhet daily.
The airline officials said they have already taken all preparations to resume domestic flight operations following the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh's (CAAB's) prescribed health guidelines, including disinfecting the aircraft every time before boarding passengers.
On Thursday, the government decided to resume domestic flight operations on a limited scale -- initially on Dhaka-Chattogram, Dhaka-Sylhet and Dhaka-Saidpur routes -- while the ongoing international flight suspension will be in effect till June 15.
CAAB Chairman Air Vice Marshal M Mafidur Rahman said all airlines must follow the health guidelines to operate domestic flights.
According to CAAB's guidelines, all airlines have to keep at least 30 percent seats vacant on each flight to ensure social distancing, keeping a minimum gap of a seat between two passengers if they are not from the same family.
It further instructed that the front or the last row of seats on each flight must remain vacant to carry any passenger suspected of being infected with coronavirus.
Crew members will avoid close contact with passengers and provide only necessary in-flight services to passengers -- no food or drinks will be served in flights with an airtime of less than one and a half hours.
US-BANGLA SPECIAL OFFER
US-Bangla Airlines yesterday offered a special one-way fare of Tk 1,999 on the Dhaka-Chattogram route.
The leading private airlines of the country with 13 aircraft in its fleet said they are offering the lowest price as people are experiencing an economic crisis amid the Covid-19, Kamrul Islam, general manager, public relations, US-Bangla Airlines, told The Daily Star.
The reduced airfare will come into effect from today, the airlines said in a press release.
US-Bangla had earlier set a Tk 3,000 fare for one-way trips to Chattogram, which was Tk 2,500 before the Covid-19 outbreak.