Deprived of funds, airlines cut flights
Turkish Airlines used to fly to Dhaka twice a day but it has been operating one flight a day for a year since it cannot repatriate to Istanbul $24 million it earned here from ticket sales and by moving freight.
Officials of the carrier said they have reduced selling tickets in Dhaka and are urging flyers to buy tickets online and outside Bangladesh.
Following suit, other foreign carriers, including Malindo Air, Kuwait Airways, and Cathay Pacific, have cut flight frequencies to Dhaka as they too cannot take their money back to their countries, said leaders of Association of Travel Agents of Bangladesh (ATAB).
With fewer seats available, ticket prices have gone up.
Fund repatriation by foreign airlines operating in Bangladesh has been suspended since March 2022.
On Sunday, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the trade association of some 300 airlines or 83 percent of total air traffic, said Bangladesh is the second worst in the world in terms of blocking funds of carriers after Nigeria.
Bangladesh is withholding $214 million of airlines' funds, it said, warning that this could result in carriers not serving Bangladesh.
"Airlines cannot continue to offer services in markets where they are unable to repatriate the revenues arising from their commercial activities in those markets," said Willie Walsh, IATA director general.
The IATA said the global aviation industry's blocked funds have increased by 47 percent to $2.27 billion in April 2023 from $1.55 billion in April 2022. The top five countries account for 68.0 percent of the blocked funds: Nigeria ($812.2 million), Bangladesh ($214.1 million), Algeria ($196.3 million), Pakistan ($188.2 million), and Lebanon ($141.2 million).
The IATA urged governments to abide by international agreements and treaty obligations to enable airlines to repatriate the funds.
"Airlines cannot continue to offer services in markets where they are unable to repatriate the revenues arising from their commercial activities in those markets."
Officials of foreign carriers in Dhaka said they have to bring in US dollars to pay for refuelling their planes in Bangladesh even though they have money in Bangladesh.
A senior official of Turkish Airlines said, "We were forced to reduce the number of flights from Dhaka to minimise loss. From Bangladesh, we are not selling tickets of low fares. We are selling these tickets online from outside Bangladesh or through our agents.
"We are discouraging Bangladeshi people from buying tickets from Dhaka as it will be expensive," the official added.
An official of Turkish Airlines, said, "Usually an airline tries to sell as many tickets as possible. But we are trying to sell fewer from Dhaka so that we don't pile up the money we cannot repatriate."
Officials of Saudia echoed the Turkish Airlines official.
An official of a foreign carrier said, "If the situation does not improve, foreign airlines will be forced to stop their operations here which will damage Bangladesh's image abroad."
ATAB in January wrote to the civil aviation and tourism ministry, seeking its intervention. It said foreign airlines are now reluctant to do business in Bangladesh and are flying to destinations where profits are higher.
Aviation Expert Kazi Wahidul Alam said due to the reduction of flight frequencies of airlines, the number of available seats has dropped driving ticket prices high.
He said carriers will be forced to reduce flights if they cannot send the money back home on time.
Around 30 foreign carriers operate around 90 international flights from Dhaka daily, according to sources at the Dhaka airport.