The UK has banned air cargo directly from Dhaka until further notice as Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport failed to meet some international security requirements.
Only the Biman Bangladesh Airlines carries cargo directly to the UK in its four weekly passenger flights but it now would not be able to do so due to the ban, according to officials of the national flag carrier.
An average of 25 tonnes of cargo -- mostly apparels, vegetables and agricultural products -- is flown to the UK in each flight.
"The ban will have a disastrous impact on our exports as the UK is a very big market of the EU. The UK is the second biggest garment export destination for Bangladesh after Germany," said Siddiqur Rahman, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.
A web post on the UK government's website on March 8 says, "As part of a set of interim measures, cargo will not be allowed on direct flights from Dhaka to the UK until further notice."
Their recent assessments of the Shahjalal airport found that some international security requirements were not being met, it says.
"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," reads the post.
On December 19 last year, Australia banned air cargo from Bangladesh, citing security concerns.
"We have been working to ensure foolproof security, but according to their [UK government's] view, we could not meet some security requirements and that is why they have imposed the temporary ban," Civil Aviation Minister Rashed Khan Menon told The Daily Star yesterday.
"We have been purchasing necessary equipment, recruiting manpower and providing them with training. But if all those steps do not satisfy them, what else could we do?" he said.
Chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (Caab) Air-Vice Marshal M Sanaul Haque said they, in association with a UK aviation security team, were working to ensure security at the airport.
"The UK team members often expressed satisfaction over our work."
But some of the requirements could not be met due to time constraint, he said.
"We asked them to give us some more time so that we can comply with their requirements, but they slapped the ban."
Asked when the ban could probably be lifted, Sanaul said an UK team was due to inspect the Biman on March 13.
"We are working with the Biman. If the Biman can meet the team's requirements, the ban could be lifted then," he said, adding that the government was taking diplomatic steps as well to this end.
The Caab chairman said the ban was not like that of Australia, which was imposed without any communication with Bangladesh.
Following the bombing and crash of a Russian jet over Egypt's Sinai desert in October, the UK Department for Transport made a list of 38 airports of 20 countries, including the Shahjalal airport in Dhaka, that have security concerns.
Experts from the UK and the US inspected the Dhaka airport twice in November and December last year and found "serious security lapses and risks", sources said.
The teams were concerned about cargo screening and management at the airport, which is handled by the Biman.
Since then, the UK has been pushing for better security arrangements.
A top official of the civil aviation ministry said the UK team, after the assessments, suggested that trained personnel be engaged for operation of the scanning machines at the airport's cargo complex and that no cargo be left out in the open.
Due to shortage of manpower, the Biman would not be able to employ trained personnel at the cargo complex and for the shortage of space, it would not be possible to keep all cargo awaiting shipment at a safer place, he said, wishing anonymity.
Acting Managing Director MM Asaduzzaman of the Biman claimed that the national airlines had complied with the recommendations by the UK team, like access control and training personnel.
"I am not sure as to why the UK still imposed the ban. They did not show us any reason," he told The Daily Star, declining to comment further.
Sources claimed that cargo handling at the airport is largely done by hired help, not by regular employees of the Biman.
Following the bombing of Metrojet in Egypt, the US and the UK in November restricted air cargo from Egypt. In 2010, the UK restricted unaccompanied airfreight from Somalia and Yemen on security grounds, according to media reports.