The much-awaited resumption of flights between Bangladesh and India has led to utter disappointment among air operators due to a slump in travel demand.
Under the circumstances, the airlines have been compelled to reduce the number of flights to India in order to absorb their losses.
Biman Bangladesh Airlines was set to introduce its first flight to Chennai from 15 November, but it backtracked on its decision because of lackluster ticket sales.
The national carrier announced the sale of tickets for the Dhaka-Chennai route from 28 October. So far, it has failed to sell a single ticket.
In such a situation, Biman has decided to backtrack on its decision to open flight operations with Chennai.
Biman resumed flights on the Dhaka-Kolkata route on 1 November with three weekly flights, but within a week it suspended operations due to a lack of demand for travel from passengers. It operated the last flight on Thursday.
The national carrier also reduced the number of the Dhaka-Delhi weekly flights, which resumed on 29 October, to two from three.
Md Mokabbir Hossain, Biman managing director, told The Business Standard that the number of passengers intending to fly to India is in the single digit, which is a big loss for the airline.
"The load factor on the Dhaka-Delhi route ranges between 30 and 40, and that is why flight operations continue on this route," he said, adding that if the load factor drops, flight operations may also be suspended on the route.
India is now the third highest coronavirus-infected country which has made passengers reluctant about flying to the country, he went on to say.
Moreover, visit visas between Bangladesh and India remain suspended.
US-Bangla, a local private airline, has been operating flights on the Dhaka-Chennai route with the highest number of passengers being twenty. Sometimes, the number of air travellers comes down to a single digit.
Other air operators are also following suit by reducing flight frequency due to a lack of demand, said industry insiders.
Regular flights between Bangladesh and India resumed under special agreement more than seven months after they were suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak in March.
However, the number of flyers was extremely few though the airlines experienced a 30% to 40% passenger load factor in the beginning.
On the first day of its flight, the local private carrier US-Bangla operated two flights from Dhaka to Chennai and Dhaka to Kolkata.
The passenger load factor was between 30% and 40%, both ways, on the flights, according to the carrier.
On the Chennai route, the private airline carried 32 passengers from Dhaka and returned with 34, while on the Kolkata route, the number of travellers from Dhaka was 23, with 34 were on the return flight.
The air operators had expected that the number of passengers would rise gradually, but it declined further as the Covid-19 infection kept worsening in India.
Research released by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) on 4 November showed that passenger demand in September remained highly depressed.
The total demand (measured in revenue passenger kilometres or RPKs) was 72.8% below the September-2019 levels.
Capacity was down 63% compared to that a year ago, while load factor fell 21.8 percentage points to 60.1%.
International passenger demand in September plunged 88.8% compared to that in September 2019.
The capacity plummeted 78.9%, and the load factor withered by 38.2 percentage points to 43.5%.
In September, domestic demand was down 43.3%. In comparison with 2019, capacity fell 33.3% and load factor dropped 12.4 percentage points to 69.9%.
"We have hit a wall in the industry's recovery. The resurgence in Covid-19 outbreaks, particularly in Europe and the US combined with the government reliance on the blunt instrument of quarantine in the absence of globally aligned testing regimes, has halted momentum toward re-opening borders to travel," said IATA's Director General and CEO Alexandre de Juniac.