Just when Biman Bangladesh Airlines had been going for an optimistic fleet expansion, the outbreak of coronavirus has dealt its business quite a blow.
Biman has been forced to make drastic cuts in its flight frequencies in several international routes.
Biman slashed flight frequencies by half to 10 international destinations due to a fall in the passenger growth. Out of 142 flights a week, Biman will operate only 68 flights.
The national carrier has made a loss of around Tk80 crore last month owing to a fall in the outbound passenger number.
Biman estimates the loss likely to be around Tk200 crore this month as it had to cut flight frequencies on many international routes amid flight restrictions in different countries and a fall in the number of air travelers, said its Managing Director Md Mokabbir Hossain.
Last week, it cut flights to four destinations – Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Kathmandu and Delhi.
After Qatar temporarily banned travellers from Bangladesh amid coronavirus fear on Monday, Biman cut flights to six more destinations --Kolkata, Singapore, Kuwait, Doha, Jeddah and Medinah.
The coronavirus turmoil hit Biman's business at a time when it was expecting to make healthy profit by expanding flight frequencies to the new routes, said Mokabbir.
The national carrier fears losses at the end of this year if the current situation lingers on, he added.
He said passenger load factor, an indicator that measures the percentage of available seating capacity, fell to 40 percent from above 80 percent since last month. A high load factor indicates that an airline has full planes with most seats occupied.
Under this situation, Biman decided to purchase two new Dash-8, a small haul aircraft, aiming to expand domestic flights.
The public limited company has already purchased three new Dash-8 aircraft from Bombardier, which will join the Biman's fleet in June this year.
The inclusion of the new aircraft will take the total number of Dash-8 in the fleet to six by 2022.
Meanwhile, two new Boeing Dreamliner aircrafts joined the Biman fleet in December last year, raising the total number of Dreamliners to six.
As part of the route expansion plan, Biman resumed its direct flights on Dhaka-Manchester route on January 5 after a nearly eight year gap with the newly purchased Dreamliner.
Biman was planning to open new routes to Guangzhou by March but the process has been disrupted for the same reason, the coronavirus.
In the first four months of the current fiscal year, Biman made a profit of Tk334 crore, thanks to route expansion and rising growth of passengers.
The airline had just made a turnaround in recent times. Biman entered into profit last fiscal year with a earning of Tk218 crore after suffering a loss of Tk201 crore in the previous year.
Over the years, Biman has witnessed a rapid fleet expansion and significant improvement in terms of performance with carrying passengers in large numbers and making profits.
On March 4, 1972, Biman went into operation carrying 179 passengers from London to Dhaka. Now it carries 8,000 passengers on an average per day.
In fiscal year 2018-19, Biman carried 27.62 lakh passengers, which is 39 percent higher than in fiscal year 2014-15, according to the company.
In the last five years, Biman made profits in four years and faced losses in one year.
The total net profit in the last five years was Tk522 crore.
The public limited company paid Tk2,080 crore to the government's exchequer in the last five years.