Business travel on a roll, good times for airlines
Domestic air travel rose 11.58 percent last year on the back of countrywide expansion of business activities and poor conditions of roads and railways.
In 2012, some 589,108 people travelled nationally by air, up from 2011's 527,950 passengers, according to data from Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh.
â€œAir travel has registered steady growth last year for two reasons: the higher economic growth and the long tailbacks at roads,â€ said Imran Asif, chief executive of Regent Airways.
At present, the journey time from Dhaka to Chittagong by road is 10-18 hours, which, earlier, used to be 5-6 hours.
â€œCorporate travellers have business urgency to meet and cannot afford to waste time that a road or rail journey invariably leads to. By need, air travel has become their preferred mode.â€
Buying house officials form the bulk of corporate travellers, who fly into their offices in Chittagong in the morning and return to Dhaka on the last flight, said Nasir Uddin Chowdhury, vice-president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.
â€œWe feel confident of reaching our destination in time when travelling by air as most domestic airlines maintain a strict schedule,â€ said Chowdhury, who travels by air 2-3 times a month.
But it is the Dhaka-Cox's Bazar route that has particularly seen a jump in passengers, according to Asif, as getting to the beach town has increasingly become a drawn-out exercise.
Owned by the Chittagong-based Habib Group, Regent Airways has become the top domestic carrier since its launch in 2010.
Last year, it transported more than one-third of the total domestic traffic.
Currently, the local carriers fly mainly on four domestic routes out of Dhaka -- Chittagong, Cox's Bazar, Sylhet and Jessore -- with the Dhaka-Chittagong seeing the most traffic flow, followed by Dhaka-Jessore.
A rise in business and non-governmental organisation-based activities in the south-western Khulna division, especially the Mongla port, has boosted the Dhaka-Jessore route, according to Asif.
The introduction of newer domestic routes also contributed to the higher passenger growth in the country, said Tasbirul Ahmed Choudhury, chairman and managing director of United Airways (BD) Ltd.
â€œWe launched two new domestic routes -- Dhaka-Rajshahi and Dhaka-Saidpur -- last year,â€ said Choudhury.
The airline, with a fleet of nine, also plans to operate flights on unused small domestic routes along with the major ones, with Dhaka-Barisal and Dhaka-Ishwardi routes due in March this year.
â€œWe will procure three 19-seater Jetstream aircraft in March to operate flights on the unused small domestic routes in the next two months,â€ Choudhury said.
The airline saw 15 percent more passengers than it was last year, he said.
At present, four local carriers -- Biman Bangladesh Airlines, United Airways, Regent Airways and Novoair -- operate flights to different domestic destinations.