Flying into a new chapter
Bangladesh Biman turns over to a new chapter with its brand new Dreamliner taking off for Malaysia today.
But whether the new chapter would be one of success or failure would depend on the performance of state flag carrier's management, not on the Dreamliner, say aviation experts.
The Dreamliner comes with state-of-the-art technology that only some top airlines could add to their fleets as yet.
But for Biman, it is a case of the cart before the horse. It did not do proper homework on how to best use this long-haul aircraft, even though the plane was ordered 10 years ago. It failed to open up new routes or revive discontinued ones like New York.
As a result, the plane which can fly to London from Perth nonstop, a distance of around 14,500km, is being used for Singapore and Malaysia, which is 2,500km at most.
Biman intends to keep the Boeing 787 Dreamliner on Dhaka-Kuala Lumpur and Dhaka-Singapore routes for the foreseeable future and may add Guangzhou.
Usually a flight needs to be above six hours to be considered long haul and Singapore and Malaysia are about four hours away.
Using the plane on medium-haul flight has its vices. The plane would chew through its 44,000 flight-cycle designed life faster.
With one 787-8 already on the tarmac of Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport and one more due later this year, Biman seems to be on damage limitation mode.
Secretary-in-charge Mohibul Haque of the civil aviation ministry said the 787 would be used for KL flights because now they use a much bigger Boeing 777-300ER to serve the destination. He said the 777 on that route was not always full and placing the 787 there would save Biman a lot of fuel bills.
He said Biman was tired of paying the expenses of leased planes so it had opted to gradually remove the leased aircraft and replace them with their own planes.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) being labelled subpar by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) only made things worse for Biman. It blocked Biman from opening the Dhaka-New York flight.
Mohibul, however, was hopeful that in 2019 the FAA would place CAAB in category-1, allowing Biman to serve US cities.
But still, that's just one long-haul route for the 787. Biman would have four 787s in 2019.
Shakil Meraj, general manager for public relations at Biman, recently said the airlines plans to expand its routes and include cities like Hong Kong and Rome and increase flight frequency to London.
He, however, did not say when these would happen.
Had Biman planned better, researched the market better, bought landing rights to new destinations and got the required paperwork done, the new Dreamliner christened Akashbeena would have flown today to a destination much further than Kuala Lumpur.
Now Biman has a somewhat modern fleet. Gone are the inefficient gas guzzling DC-10s and A310s. Biman has an all Boeing mid- to long-haul planes and Bombardier Dash-8 Q400s for short-haul flights.
With the two leased Dash-8s, Biman serves mostly national destinations, while the four Boeing 737-800s (two leased) and four 777-300ERs are used for regional and long-haul destinations in Asia, the Middle East and London.
“Biman touched a new milestone with the addition of Dreamliner Akashbeena to its fleet,” said AM Mosaddique Ahmed, the national flag carrier's CEO, yesterday.
But Bangladeshis expatriates, a large number of whom reside in Montreal, Sydney, Los Angeles and New York, won't be served by this new plane.
Despite the shortcomings of Biman, Bangladeshis like to use Biman when possible. It often is a matter of patriotism for them but in many cases, it is the more than generous luggage allowances the carrier offers to its passengers.
These people want to use Biman and Biman needs to figure out the business end for this demand. It needs to open routes to distant cities, buy landing slots, be punctual and provide better inflight services.
Biman is late to its own party and it needs to act fast to make up for it. It spent $2.1 billion to buy 10 modern aircrafts and it would be a shame if they were not used to the fullest.
Akashbeena, christened by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, is equipped with inflight entertainment system and onboard Wifi. Biman will allocate 10MB free Wifi for each passenger. Passengers can buy more data if required.
Biman has set $200 and $290 fare for return tickets to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, excluding tax and other charges, for the Dreamliner.
Hasina is scheduled to inaugurate the first commercial flight of Akashbeena to KL today.
The Dreamliner is a long-haul, mid-size widebody, twin-engine airliner and the configuration Biman went for gave it a seating capacity of 271. The plane's airframe is constructed primarily with composite materials and touted to be 20 percent more fuel-efficient than the Boeing 767.
It shares a common type rating with the larger Boeing 777 to allow qualified pilots to operate both models.
The first 787 was unveiled in a roll-out ceremony on July 8, 2007, at Boeing's Everett factory. The airliner's maiden flight was on December 15, 2009, and it completed flight testing in mid-2011.
Boeing did endure growing pains with the Dreamliner. In 2013, the 787s were grounded for four months following issues with its lithium-ion batteries.
Some carriers, which had opted for the Rolls-Royce Trent-1000 engines for their Dreamliners, had to cancel flights and ground their planes due to engine issues and safety inspections by Rolls-Royce.
Biman chose General Electric engines for all its 787s.