Biman heading for a mixed fleet
Bangladesh has committed to buying 10 Airbus A350s for Biman but the carrier is yet to come up with a business case for purchasing the planes.
In a statement to the media after a meeting with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at the Prime Minister's Office, French President Emmanuel Macron yesterday thanked Bangladesh for trusting the European plane maker.
The Biman Bangladesh Airlines board on May 3, 2023, decided that such a purchase could only happen after a technical and financial evaluation.
Biman had created two committees to conduct the techno-financial evaluations.
This correspondent spoke to Biman insiders with knowledge of the committees and they on the condition of anonymity said the committees had a few meetings but were nowhere near the state to be able to produce any report.
The Biman board did not insist that the planes had to be from Airbus and left it as an option. Biman currently has a fleet of 21 aircraft, 16 of them from US maker Boeing.
"Up to eight Rolls-Royce powered A350-900/1000 aircraft (the "A350 Pax Aircraft") or any other suitable aircraft (wider or narrow) as per Biman's requirement, with an option to purchase additional aircraft after carrying out techno-financial evaluation based on the market demand, Biman's route plan, and necessary approval from Biman's management," state the meeting minutes of the 288th board meeting.
The Daily Star has a copy of the minutes.
It proposed that two narrow-body freighters can be inducted into the fleet based on the above-mentioned conditions, but did not specify the name of the airframe maker or any company. The Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 family planes are considered narrow-body aircraft.
A joint communique on aviation trade was signed in London on May 5, two days after the board meeting, between United Kingdom's Minister of State in the Department for Business and Trade Lord Dominic Johnson and Private Industry and Investment Adviser to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Salman F Rahman.
However, the joint communique, which The Daily Star has a copy of, states "Sale by Airbus and the purchase by Biman Bangladesh Airlines of up to 8 Rolls-Royce powered A350-900/1000 aircraft (the "A350 Pax Aircraft") and two Airbus freighter aircraft (subject to further discussions)."
Rolls Royce aircraft engines are made in the UK.
The joint communique signed despite the decisions made by the Biman board was pointed out in a letter Biman's Managing Director Shafiul Azim sent to the secretary of the civil aviation ministry on July 4 and again on July 12.
This newspaper has copies of the letters which detail how the joint communique fails to mention anything about purchases being made after a techno-financial evaluation.
In his July 12 letter, Azim said the Biman board had made those recommendations after seeing a draft of the joint communique before it was signed. However, there were "partial differences" between the decisions made by the board and the final agreement signed.
However, Azim last night told The Daily Star, "What the French president said is in view of the joint communique. Airbus gave us two business proposals in July and we have formed a technical and a financial committee to work on evaluating the proposals. This is how it is done. We can customize according to our preferences."
When pointed out that the board's decision conflicts with the joint communique, he said the latter is written in diplomatic language.
The techno-financial evaluation that Biman is currently doing consists of figuring out the route plans, expected fuel burn on those routes, maintenance costs, how much revenue could be earned from those routes, and whether the revenue would be enough to cover the instalments for the new planes.
The Biman committees will also have to decide if the existing planes are overworked and if the predicted growing number of passengers can be served with the current fleet.
Currently, planes of the Biman fleet have a rather low average estimated utilisation of five hours a day, said highly placed Biman sources.
The current Biman fleet comprises of six Boeing 737-800s, four 777-300ERs, four 787-8s, two 787-9s, and five short-haul De Havilland Canada Dash-8-400s.
The 10 A350s that Bangladesh has committed to buy will be comparable to the Boeing 787s, said pilots.
A presentation given by Dave Schulte, managing director of Marketing at Boeing in Dhaka in May, estimated that having a complex fleet of five Boeing 787s and five Airbus A350s would incur additional costs compared to a "simple fleet" of all 787s.
Biman engineers on condition of anonymity said currently only four out of their engineering staff of 60 completed the type-rating training for A350s.
However, the four only have partial certification, meaning the A350s would need a whole new set of maintenance engineers.
In addition, Biman has a shortage of ground service operators and ground service equipment, said Biman officials.
Biman's pilots will also need to be trained and certified to fly the Airbus planes. Even cabin crew members would have to be trained for the new planes and all these add to the operational cost.