Over a month has passed since flight operations in Bangladesh resumed on domestic routes.
After being grounded for two months, airlines have implemented health directives, but normalcy has yet to be restored at Chattogram's airport.
Flights at Shah Amanat International Airport in the port city are transporting just 12-30 passengers, according to airport sources.
On Sunday morning, this correspondent saw the airport area was almost deserted, with a very low turnout of passengers as well as hardly any vehicular movement on the premises. Only five cars were seen there and all the tea shops were closed.
On that day, this correspondent travelled from Chattogram to Dhaka on a Novoair flight that carried only 12 passengers. At the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka, no hustle-and-bustle was seen – a scene completely unfamiliar to the airport in the capital city in usual times.
On a return flight to Chattogram on the evening of the same day, this correspondent observed that a US Bangla flight carried, at most, 25 passengers.
Chattogram airport Manager Wing Commander ABM Sarwar-E-Zaman told The Business Standard that the daily passenger turnout at the international airport has fallen by around 96 percent.
Last year, 4,657 passengers, on average, travelled through the Chattogram airport every day. Due to the Covid-19 crisis, the airport has seen a daily turnout of only 200 passengers this year, according to Sarwar.
Only seven domestic flights are operating now on a limited scale at the Shah Amanat airport, he added.
On June 1, private carriers US Bangla and Novoair, started four flights and three flights respectively on the Chattogram-Dhaka route.
However, state-owned Biman Bangladesh Airlines had to cancel many flights due to shortages of passengers.
"We cancelled four domestic flights from Chattogram on June 1 and June 2 due to a passenger crisis. We rescheduled flights from July 5 but had to cancel them for July 5-8 again for the same reason," said Imrul Hasan, acting manager of Biman at the Shah Amanat airport.
Shahadat Hossain, a businessman travelling from Chattogram to Dhaka, told The Business Standard that he was surprised by the desolate look of the airport where he saw only five people. "The more interesting thing is that when I boarded a flight I saw only 16-17 passengers inside."
The cost of travelling by air on the Chattogram-Dhaka route is also almost the same as that of air-conditioned buses. Yet, flights are facing a passenger crisis owing to the pandemic, he said.
A Dash-8 aircraft operating on domestic routes has 74 seats. At present, it can carry only 35 passengers by following the guidelines issued by the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh and the social distancing rules of keeping at least one seat empty between two passengers.
The global outbreak of the novel coronavirus forced the airline operators in Bangladesh to suspend flights. All national and international flights were suspended at Shah Amanat International Airport on March 26.