Planning Minister MA Mannan and State Minister for Civil Aviation and Tourism Md Mahbub Ali on Wednesday ensued a debate over Biman Bangladesh Airlines' higher fares than the other airlines.
Addressing a programme on "Formulating Tourism Master plan" organised by the Bangladesh Tourism Board at Hotel Sonargaon in Dhaka, the planning minister urged Mahbub Ali to look after people's complaints that the fares of the national flag carrier are higher than the other airlines.
"I visited Sylhet on Tuesday where people came to me with some complaints about Biman's higher fares. Not all their complaints were legitimate, but some were logical, such as, if Qatar Airlines and Emirates carry passengers to Bangladesh for £500-700, why does Biman demand a higher fare?" he said.
"I am surprised – when a Bangladesh national returns home, why would Biman demand a higher fare? I explained to them that Biman cannot do this because there is the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which has agreements worldwide. But people argued, 'How do other airlines carry us at a cheaper rate?'"
"They also requested me to draw the attention of the authorities concerned in this regard. We have to look into the matter sincerely," he added.
Sharing his experience as a former Biman official, the planning minister said, "Previously, I had heard that no tickets of Biman flights were available but many seats in the flights remained vacant. It appeared very suspicious to me."
MA Mannan said, "My first government job was in Pakistan International Airlines (PIA). I discharged my duty at its Motijheel office for two and a half years. So, when I witness some Biman-related news, I am curious."
Sharing his experience, he said, "One rate of fare in the morning, change the rate in the afternoon – why? I do not understand it. People who buy tickets early get a lower rate and those who buy later have to pay a higher fare. When we issued tickets, we sold them at the same rate the whole year. No fine was slapped if anyone cancelled travel in international flights."
In reply, Civil Aviation State Minister Mahbub Ali said, "A person may buy a ticket of Qatar Airlines flight a month ago, paying Tk70,000. He/she might buy a ticket for a Biman flight paying Tk1 lakh a day before its departure. Maybe the fare of the Biman flight was also cheaper a month ago. The fares vary from time to time."
He further said, "The fares are fixed following international rules. Biman cannot fix its ticket fares as they wish. Rather, we sat with all airlines, held meetings at different levels where we urged them to fix the fares at a reasonable rate."
"We fixed Tk64,000 as the highest fare of a Biman ticket. The higher authority of the government is also concerned over the issue. The prime minister instructed us to find out ways to reduce fares," he added.
Amid doubling and tripling of airfares to and from the Middle East, the Association of Travel Agents of Bangladesh (ATAB) urged the government to control ticket prices of all local and foreign airlines which operate flights on the route.