Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport (HSIA) is struggling to handle the mounting pressure of container cargos as buyers of international apparel brands are now keen to take their goods by air to avoid congestion at transshipment ports with growing demand at their home markets.
The airport is now handling 1.5 times more cargo than its capacity. Still, the huge number of containers is overwhelming the airport capacity, airport sources said.
Higher cargo shipping charges are also pushing the buyers and exporters to use air freights, but glitches in HSIA's scanners and weighing scales, ongoing construction works of the third terminal and insufficient storage space at its cargo village are making it very difficult to handle the extra load, industry sources said.
Group Captain AHM Touhid-ul Ahsan, executive director of Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, said, "As per airlines capacity, we are handling 600-700 tonnes of goods in a day, which is about 1.5 times higher than our previous capacity."
"The number of cargo flights has been increased to 25 from the previous 15," he added.
"Pressure of apparel goods cargo has increased for the last few weeks. We are trying our best to fly all the goods on time with our limited resources," he added.
Freight forwarders said 85% of the goods that Dhaka airport handles are readymade garments.
However, freight forwarder leaders are saying the Dhaka airport has lost its handling capacity due to the absence of scheduled flights, failure in the explosive detection system (EDS) and ongoing construction work of the third terminal.
Asking for anonymity, a forwarder said the authorities should double the number of flights to handle the extra pressure.
Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) Vice President Shahidullah Azim said, "Many of our buyers are asking to send their goods through air freight as their stores are almost empty due to the pandemic."
On the other hand, the cargo shipping charge has increased up to 400% depending on destination, he added.
The apparel makers have secured a big number of work orders for the coming days which may increase this pressure further, Azim said.
"Already, BGMEA has talked with the Civil Aviation Authority to speed up activities in the export and import stages of apparel goods and raw materials," he added.
Nurul Islam Babu, owner of Demotrans, an international freight forwarder, said, "Usually we handle 20 tonnes of goods in a month but now it has increased to 40 tonnes."
Chattogram Port Authority Secretary Md Omar Faruk said, "There is no container congestion in Chattogram Port for loading and unloading goods for the last one and half months."
"But, as far as we know, some transshipment ports had container congestion a few days ago," he added.
Bangladesh Freight Forwarders Association (BAFFA) President Kabir Ahmed, said in the absence of scheduled flights, exporters have become almost fully dependent on freighter aircraft, which are not operating regularly in the country.
He said, "It is the peak time for apparel export but an explosive detection system (EDS) machine has been out of order for a long time; another one has to be shut down after a period of work. But explosive detection scanning is mandatory for export to the European Union countries."
He also mentioned that now they are doing such explosive scanning with the explosive detection dog squad.
Ongoing construction work of the third terminal has also occupied a part of the cargo village which has slowed down the goods handling process, said the BAFFA president.
These are also causes of cargo congestion at the airport, he added.
BAFFA Vice President Syed Md Bakhtiar said a number of scheduled chartered flights have been stopped during the pandemic and later some forwarders brought new chartered flights which were not enough to carry this extra load.
He said the Japan International Cooperation Agency donated two scanners to the airport authorities but their validation process has not been completed yet by the EU officials.
Apparel exporters have alleged that due to airline shortage their cargo trucks have to wait three to five days outside the cargo village. At that time traffic police file cases against their vehicles. On the other hand air freight cost has also increased 60% to 100% depending on the destinations.
Narayanganj-based MB Knit Fashion' Proprietor Mohammad Hatem said, "Two of my cargo trucks have faced traffic police cases as they were parked for three days on the road waiting to enter the cargo village."
My Italian and Swedish buyers have asked for sending those goods urgently as their stores are almost empty, he added.
BGMEA former president Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin said, "Our cargo truck has been stuck for 10 days at the cargo village due to shortage of flight. Those goods needed to be sent to Italian leading fashion buyers Max Mara."
"We, the apparel makers, are trying to ship goods through air freight due to time shortage. If those goods are shipped by sea, the buyers might miss this season. However, we are facing the same problem in the airway too," said Mohiuddin.
"If the buyers do not get their goods on time, they may charge a fine," he added.
Seeking anonymity, a buying house partner said, "We have sent 6,600 kg of goods to a Korean buyer by air to meet our deadline, but air freight cost was about 60% higher now. It is about half of the goods' price."
"Air freight cost per kg goods on Dhaka-to-Seoul route was $2.40; now it is at $3.85," he explained.
PULL&BEAR asked to send goods through Kolkata airport
Spanish clothing and accessories retailer PULL&BEAR already asked its Bangladeshi suppliers to use Kolkata airport instead of Dhaka airport. The Business Standard has obtained a copy of that letter.
"Due to the high volumes and the constant problems, we are facing difficulties for the scanners at Dhaka airport. An important part of the cargo is being moved to Calcutta (500tons / 1200tons) this week," reads the letter.
BGMEA Vice President Shahidullah Azim said, "It will increase the cost of doing business".
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