Bangladesh cannot be a regional aviation hub without a vibrant and effective aviation sector and proper infrastructure for aircraft maintenance, stakeholders and experts said at a seminar.
"25 years into its journey, the private airlines sector still could not build a strong foundation. The high price of jet fuel, huge obstacles in machinery import, and high tax on machinery are some of the major reasons behind this poor state," Mofizur Rahman, managing director, Novoair and general secretary of Aviation Operators Association of Bangladesh (AOAB) said at the event titled "Prospect of Bangladesh as Regional Aviation Hub" on Saturday at Pan Pacific Sonargaon Hotel in Dhaka.
Travel magazine 'The Bangladesh Monitor' organised the seminar on the sidelines of the international tourism fair 'Dhaka Travel Mart- 2022'. The three-day fair closed on Saturday.
Mofizur said that the uneven competition with the national flag carrier Biman which has been ongoing for a long time is a major hindrance to the progress of the private airline sector.
"The subsidy-dependent system for Biman was a major obstacle for the private operators which had to shut down previously," he said.
Referring to the price hike of jet fuel, he said, "Fuel price is the major cost of airlines' total expenditures. The jet fuel price has been raised 120% as of today since January 2021. That's why private operators were bound to increase airfare while Biman still keeps their previous fare effective in 2019 through subsidy."
Mofizur said that though India is bigger in area, population and economy compared to Bangladesh, it is not recognised as an aviation hub.
"Aircraft and other maintenance infrastructure building is mandatory to establish a complete aviation sector. We are not even at the preliminary level in this regard," he added.
Abdullah Al Mamun, managing director, US- Bangla Airlines, said, "The landing and parking fee is increasing each year in Bangladesh. If we want to buy a brand new aircraft, we have to pay $2 million more than India because of paying high customs duty,"
The number of domestic passengers was around 3 lakh in 2009 which has increased to 30 lakh within 10 years (2019), according to the Aviation Operators Association of Bangladesh (AOAB).
"If we can reopen our closed domestic airports with high landing facilities, we can attract 40-50 lakh domestic travellers per year. We should reopen immediately four domestic airports-Ishwardhi, Bogura, Lalmonirhat, and Shamshernagar Airports," said Wing Commander (retd) ATM Nazrul Islam, managing director of United Airways.
In his keynote presentation, Air Vice Marshal M Mafidur Rahman, chairman, of the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) said that the UAE and Singapore both have become global aviation hubs although both the countries are almost the same age as Bangladesh and have less population than Bangladesh. Then, why Bangladesh would not be able to become a regional aviation hub as it only needs at the highest six hours to fly in the whole of Asia and surrounding regions.
"While the contribution of the UAE's aviation sector is 15-16% of total GDP, we have only 0.3% which is not significant yet. Now we are optimistic as the country is implementing many mega projects like the third terminal of Dhaka airport, expansion of Cox's Bazar airport," he added.
He mentioned both the public and private carriers should enjoy equal opportunities so that a competitive, balanced atmosphere can prevail.