Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina yesterday wrote back to her British counterpart David Cameron and requested a review of the ban on direct air cargo from Dhaka to London.
In reply to Cameron's March 8 letter to her, Hasina also wished to work together with the British government on meeting all the global security requirements of Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport.
In his letter, the UK PM called for a visible improvement of airport security by March 31 to avoid further measures like banning of direct passenger Biman flights from Dhaka to London.
Contacted over the phone, a diplomat at the Bangladesh High Commission in London around 9:00pm (Bangladesh time) confirmed that Hasina's letter has reached Cameron.
Earlier, diplomatic sources in Dhaka and London said Bangladesh government had instructed its high commission to ensure that the letter reaches the British Prime Minister's Office, 10 Downing Street, in the shortest possible time.
Sources at the Prime Minister's Office and foreign ministry in Dhaka said Hasina signed the letter to Cameron yesterday morning and sent it to him immediately through the Bangladesh mission in London.
The prime minister in the letter expressed hope that the UK government would consider the request with utmost sincerity.
Hasina also mentioned that the Bangladesh authorities are strictly addressing the British observations regarding airport security.
In her four-paragraph letter, she requested Cameron to review the cargo ban decision, considering the historic relations between Bangladesh and the UK.
She mentioned that both the countries need to continue working together for taking the airport security system to international standards and that is their common goal.
Hasina also wrote that since her taking office, both the countries are working together against terrorism. And Bangladesh has teamed up with the UK and other foreign friends to remove security-related problems through various measures.
The prime minister confidently wrote to her British counterpart that her government's priority is to ensure a secure airway.
She said her government would continue to work with the UK and other friendly countries to ensure foolproof security at the Dhaka international airport.
Meanwhile, the government yesterday removed Khorshed Alam Chowdhury from the post of civil aviation and tourism secretary.
SM Golam Faruk, a member of the Planning Commission, has replaced Khorshed, according to a circular of the public administration ministry.
On Sunday, Air Vice-Marshal Ehsanul Gani Chowdhury was made chairman of Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (Caab). He has replaced Air Vice-Marshal M Sanaul Huq.
Officials at the civil aviation ministry said Khorshed and Sanaul have been removed as they failed to play due role in meeting the global security requirements of Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport.
“The changes in the top two positions were made following intelligence report on the activities of the secretary and the Caab chairman since October last year when the issue of upgrading the security standards of Shahjalal airport came up,” said an official wishing not to be named.
“The ban on [Dhaka-London] direct air cargo has a huge political impact and it has tarnished the country's image.”
He also said Khorshed Alam, who has now been made a member of the Planning Commission, is supposed to retire in the next few months.
The moves came days after the UK Department for Transport imposed the air cargo ban.
“Recent security assessments of Dhaka International Airport found that some international security requirements were not being met. As part of a set of interim measures, cargo will not be allowed on direct flights from Dhaka to the UK until further notice,” the department said.
It added, “Airlines carrying cargo between Bangladesh and the UK on indirect routes are being asked to ensure it is re-screened before its final leg into the UK.”
TWO FIRMS SHORT-LISTED
Meanwhile, the authorities have short-listed two foreign companies from a list of four suggested by British High Commissioner Alison Blake during a meeting on Sunday.
Through analytical study, the Caab primarily picked REDLINE and RESTRATA. Two other companies are G4S and Westminster Security Services Ltd.
The job of the hired company will cover security management, quality control in civil aviation, Aviation Security (AVSEC) screeners training, infrastructural development and cargo security.
Group Capt (Retd) Alamgir, chief of the AVSEC Cell of Caab, has already contacted the companies to discuss the requirements and decide which one to choose, officials at the civil aviation ministry said.
“The authorities decided to appoint a firm from the list of the British High Commissioner because, despite several measures taken during the last few months since October last year, the UK assessments continue to identify a number of weaknesses at Shahjalal International Airport where shortage of capable and trained manpower is a major issue,” said an official.
After signing a contract with the Caab on March 24, the hired company will deploy its security personnel at the airport the very next day.
Asked for how long the company will be hired, the official said it could be for six months to one year. And asked how much it will charge, he said, “It will be fixed after the visit of the company officials. It will be a huge amount of money.”
Led by Alison Blake, the British delegation during Sunday's meeting with the government suggested bringing in their trained operational staff for a short period to support security screening at the airport and arrange training for both operational and supervisory Bangladesh staff.
The meeting decided to select the foreign security firm by today or tomorrow and send a comprehensive proposal to the civil aviation ministry between March 17 and March 18 for approval.
Meanwhile, a steering committee formed on Sunday for proper supervision of the measures taken to upgrade the security standard of the airport sat at the ministry yesterday.