Budget carrier Flynas to ferry hajj pilgrims
After 10 long years, a third airlines -- Saudi Arabian budget carrier Flynas -- has been granted permission to transport Bangladeshi hajj pilgrims to and from the kingdom.
Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) in a letter on Friday gave the go-ahead, breaking the duopoly of hajj passenger transport business of Biman and Saudia.
Hajj Agencies Association of Bangladesh (HAAB), a platform of over 1,500 private hajj operators and different other platforms, had long been demanding more airlines be allowed as the current system was costing the pilgrims higher airfares.
Biman and Saudia were the only two airlines transporting hajj pilgrims from Dhaka since 2012 as per a hajj agreement signed between the two countries that year.
Since then, the two companies have enjoyed the duopoly, charging pilgrims high airfares, said leaders of HAAB and Association of Travel Agents of Bangladesh (ATAB).
"The price of air tickets will drop due to competition from more than two airlines," ATAB President SN Manzur Murshed told The Daily Star.
The government has fixed this year's hajj airfare at Tk 1.40 lakh per person, up from Tk 1.28 lakh in 2019.
HAAB leaders said they were happy that the government allowed a third carrier which they thought would create scope for delivering better services to the pilgrims.
M Shahadat Hossain Taslim, president of HAAB, alleged that Biman and Saudia make and change decisions almost arbitrarily without considering the pilgrims' problems.
"Pilgrims will now have another choice. They will be able to buy tickets at a competitive price," he told The Daily Star.
He demanded that the government allow more Bangladeshi and foreign carriers to ferry hajj pilgrims to ensure a better and smooth hajj management.
Some neighbouring countries, including India, Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia, are allowing third carriers to operate hajj flights.
The HAAB president said if more airlines are granted permission, hajj agencies would be able to offer more hajj packages, including those with shorter stays in Saudi Arabia, which would ultimately benefit the pilgrims.
Currently, the pilgrims need to stay in the Gulf country for at least one month to perform the rituals under a hajj package.
This year, a total of 57,585 Bangladeshis will perform hajj, likely to be held on July 9, subject to sighting of the moon. Of them, Biman will carry half of the pilgrims and the rest would be ferried by Saudia and Flynas.
In 2019, around 1.27 lakh Bangladeshis were allowed to perform the ritual. Due to the pandemic, the largest annual congregation of the Muslims was held on a limited scale in the last two years.