[ Online ] 2021-11-28
Bangladesh can be an aviation hub: CAAB chairman
The government has decided to upgrade all the eight operational airports across the country dropping the proposal for building new airports near Dhaka and in Bagerhat for the moment considering lack of their feasibility.

In a recent interview with New Age at his office in the city, Civil Aviation Authority, Bangladesh chairman Air Vice-Marshal M Mafidur Rahman said that country’s economic activities, including trade, tourism and industry, are expected to get a boost in coming years.

The expected economic progress would improve and sustain aviation prospects of Bangladesh due to its advantageous geographical location as many European and African countries are now approaching Bangladesh to establish aviation connectivity with it, he said.

Mafidur Rahman, an aviator-turned-aviation regulator, also said that investors now found their movement inside Bangladesh smoother than in the past as domestic air services were available.

Until 2019, the CAAB chair said, Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport handled around six to seven million passengers but there are predictions that the air travel to and from this air station would double in a few years.

‘That’s the reason a third terminal is being built at the Dhaka airport and once the terminal is completed the airport could handle some two crore passengers annually,’ he said.

Besides, more than 90 per cent of the CAAB’s aeronautical functions are carried out from this airport, he noted.

Mafidur said that the air transport would play a dominant role in the future and the government was therefore taking various initiatives to integrate the country’s air services with other modes of transport.

He said that as the country’s aviation traffic management capacity was limited the government would shortly sign a government-to-government deal with France to procure and install radars, adding that the contract would cover the exclusive economic zones of Bangladesh.

‘We would sign the deal in a month and it would be implemented over some three years,’ the air services chief disclosed.

The CAAB is in the process of signing a Tk 730 crore radar project with the French company Thales Group, he added.

Apart from the Dhaka air station, international services have been available at Osmani International Airport in Sylhet for some time while such services have also been introduced to Shah Amanat International Airport in Chattogram.

He said that such facilities would be gradually made available at the Cox’s Bazar airport and then Saidpur airport in future.

The aviation industry would see a boom as a result of thriving trade and tourism in the country, he said, adding that due to the country’s geographical location air services from Bangladesh could have destinations in the Middle East, Far East or near Europe and there is an enormous possibility for Bangladesh to become a regional aviation hub.

Until Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport has the capacity to handle very high number of passengers the government plans to divert international flights to other regional airports in the country.

According to CAAB statistics, about 22, 51,534 passengers were transported by 14,266 international flights to and from Bangladesh between April 2020 and June 2021 while 19,04,316 were carried by 34,098 domestic flights within the country since June 2020.

Besides, at least 8,553 cargo flights carried 24,05,346 tonnes of goods to from abroad while 1,83,109 tonnes from the country to various international destinations between April 2020 and May 2021.

The CAAB chief said that in future the international passengers travelling to the southern part of the country would be taken to either the Chattogram air station or the Cox’s Bazar airport while those destined to the Sylhet region would be delivered to the Sylhet airport and those headed for the northern part would land in the Saidpur airport as the country’s aviation industry would be streamlined.

Now, he went on, the government needs to improve the inter-divisional connectivity and modernise the existing eight airports expanding their runways and capacities.

‘We can then be able to handle a greater number of passengers and larger volume of cargo,’ he added.

About the single runway at the HSIA, the CAAB chairman said that it was difficult to handle large volumes of traffic with the sole runway for which another runway would soon be built for emergency use.

After the completion of the third HSIA terminal, the second runway would be built and the new terminal would depend on that runway.

About modernisation of air strips now lying abandoned in different parts of the country, as demanded by private airlines of Bangladesh, the CAAB chairman said that the authorities needed to examine the outcome of the modernisation, adding that the challenge is how those air strips would be managed.

The Bangladesh Air Force is currently using Tejgaon Airport, Bogura Airport and a short take-off and landing station at Shamshernagar in Moulvibazar where aircraft need prior approval for operation.

The Ishwardi airdrome in Pabna, the short take-off and landing facility in Cumilla and the airstrip in Thakurgaon are not in service, according to the CAAB.

Until the country’s aviation system becomes automated and is monitored scientifically, Mafidur suspected that there might be risks with an immediate expansion of the domestic flight services by putting the out-of-service airfields to use.

Therefore, he said, it is not a priority now but if any location becomes important in future the authorities would modernise the relevant air station.

He went on that with about 30 choppers currently in commercial service the market for their use would increase further.

He noted that two of the three private airlines providing the fixed-wing aircraft services were performing well while the other’s business record was not up to the mark and which was due to their fault.

‘We are providing highest possible support to the local airline companies so that foreign carriers cannot take a large part of the revenue they are operating for,’ he further said.

When many foreign airlines have shut down, he went on, Bangladeshi air services have continued flourishing, adding that it was not only due to the support from the CAAB but also because of the support from other entities, including the foreign, home, health and expatriates' welfare and overseas employment ministries.

The CAAB chairman said that more flights would be coming to the country when there would be greater trade and tourism.

About Indian aviation services in Bangladesh, he mentioned that the aviation industry in the neighbouring country was booming though many airlines had, meanwhile, faced bankruptcy or closed down.

He said that Indian services would be professionally dealt with at the policy level by ensuring mutual benefits while Bangladeshi airlines would enjoy equal rights with the Indian services on a reciprocal basis.

‘We can get business from India if our airlines have the capacity. India is a huge country,’ he noted.

About the construction of a proposed international airport named after the country’s founding president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, he said that a feasibility study was carried out for the airport for future as it was not a priority now because a third terminal was under construction at the Dhaka airport to meet enhanced demand.

The CAAB chief pointed out that all but the Dhaka airport was now incurring loss while profits from the Dhaka airport helped the authorities to keep the other airports operational.

To turn the other airports profitable, he said, the scope for economic development would be widened further.

‘Be it tourism or industry, when they would expand, economic activities, too, would expand,’ he added.

About the ongoing upgradation of the northern Saidpur airport in Nilphamari, the CAAB chief said that the authorities required large-scale land acquisition for the expansion of the domestic airport into an international one.

With the help of local public representatives the necessary land has been identified, he said.

‘And now when we should be in the process of land acquisition the fund has not been made available so far due to the [Covid] pandemic. We need Tk 5,000 crore alone for the land acquisition. It has become a challenge now as the country is dealing with the problem of both life and livelihood,’ he mentioned.

He said that the Saidpur airport project was to be implemented under the Indian government’s line of credit.

‘It’s a short-term challenge,’ he said, adding, ‘The long-term challenge is that the region needed to have greater economic activities.’

About the proposed ‘Khan Jahan Ali Airport’ in Bagerhat near the Sunderbans, he said that the airport feasibility study found the construction of the airport at the moment not appropriate considering the state of the existing economic activities.

But, he said, when the region would have more economic zones and would see a boost in tourism and when both Mongla and Payra seaports would generate large-scale economic activities as envisaged by the master plan the airport would be viable.

The airport land was prepared as per the master plan, he said, adding that it would be implemented under a private-public-partnership arrangement.

‘But investors are not coming forward for the project in the face of the challenges,’ Mafidur said.

He further said that as the nearby Jashore airport is under expansion, the construction of the Khan Jahan Ali airport was not a priority in this stage although Khulna people wanted the airport.

Asked about an increasing number of air service agreements with the former Soviet and European countries, he said that the agreements were meant to cement bilateral relations.

‘Bangladesh is a rising country and many countries have started believing that it would have an important position in the region,’ Mafidur said, adding that many countries are therefore willing to be connected with Bangladesh for the future.

In many cases, he said, many countries are willing to sign a memorandum of understanding with Bangladesh in this regard.

Many European and African countries are sending proposals for having air links with Bangladesh seeing its fast-growing economic activities, especially in the aviation sector.

Bangladesh has air service agreements with about 54 countries but operates flights with one third of those countries.

About aviation safety standard, he said that Bangladesh had made significant progress in this regard in the region and continued its effort to maintain the international standard.

Following the Covid outbreak, the CAAB chief said, initially foreign carriers were willing to fly stranded Bangladeshis from their respective countries but he later gave priority to local airlines to carry these passengers.
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