More foreign airlines keen to connect Bangladesh

At least eight foreign airlines have expressed interest in entering the Bangladesh aviation market due to promising business prospects.

According to sources, the number of foreign airlines operating in Bangladesh will potentially exceed 40, rising from the current 33, following the planned soft launch of the third terminal at Dhaka airport in October this year.

People concerned said while the introduction of these airlines may lead to a reduction in ticket prices on various routes, there is a concern regarding the outflow of foreign currency from Bangladesh, particularly during the ongoing dollar crisis.

Enhancing the capacity of local airlines by expanding their routes and fleets, as well as permitting the entry of more local airlines, is essential for retaining foreign currency within the country and ensuring market competitiveness, they said.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) has already granted permission to Egypt Air and Ethiopian Airlines to operate flights from Bangladesh. Additionally, the approval process for the ultra-low-cost airline, Wizz Air, based in Abu Dhabi, is currently underway.

Egypt Air commenced direct flights on the Dhaka-Cairo-Dhaka route on 14 May.

“Ethiopia is expected to commence flight operations within a month. Abu Dhabi’s Wizz Air has also expressed interest, but due to space constraints in Dhaka, they have been advised to initiate operations from Chattogram,” CAAB Chairman M Mafidur Rahman said.

Additionally, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), Iraqi Airways, and Royal Jordanian Airlines have shown interest in operating flights to Bangladesh. Discussions have also been held with the French authorities as Air France and another airline have expressed their desire to operate in Bangladesh. Interest has also been expressed from Spain, and talks will be initiated with Air Canada, he said.

The CAAB chairman further mentioned that once the New York flight is launched, more airlines will likely be interested in connecting with Bangladesh or exploring code-sharing agreements.

According to CAAB sources, British Airways and Garuda Indonesia have also shown their interest to operate flights in Bangladesh.

Farhad Hossain, executive director and chief operating officer of Egypt Air, Bangladesh office, told The Business Standard, “Given the interest of Bangladeshis in Egypt, there is a significant opportunity to attract many travellers as passengers. Moreover, there are individuals who are considering business prospects in Egypt.”

He said many Europe and US-bound passengers often opt for Egypt as a transit point so they can explore Egypt and enjoy relatively good service at an affordable cost.

Ethiopian Airlines is making preparations to launch flights from Dhaka to facilitate travel for Bangladeshi passengers to various African countries with “efficient transit options” through Ethiopia, allowing them to reach their desired African destinations in a short time.

People concerned said there is a significant Bangladeshi population residing in African countries, including South Africa. The objective is to swiftly connect these Bangladeshi passengers to different African nations by utilising Ethiopia as a transit hub.

Meanwhile, India’s budget airline SpiceJet has unveiled plans to commence flights from India’s northeast region to Bangladesh by the end of June.

As per a recent statement released by the carrier, it will introduce a flight on the Agartala-Chattogram-Agartala route by the end of next month, reported Indian news outlet the Economic Times.

Are local airliners worried?

According to local airline officials, their primary concern lies not with their competitors but with the limited capacity of the country’s airports to accommodate additional flights.

Squadron Leader Lutfor Rahman, CEO of US-Bangla Airlines, said, “To thrive in a competitive market, we must demonstrate that we offer international standard services. If we can achieve this, why should foreign airlines impact us?”

He emphasised the need to consider the limitations of the third terminal, acknowledging its overall quality but highlighting constraints in the taxi track and the single runway. “If the regulatory body resolves these issues and grants permission for more airlines, we have no objection to that.”

Abdus Salam Aref, secretary general of the Association of Travel Agent Bangladesh (Atab), highlighted the significant presence of foreign airlines in the Bangladesh market.

“Typically, in most countries, national carriers account for around 40% of the total market business. But, in our case, foreign airlines occupy around 70%-75% of our business. If we fail to enhance the passenger capacity of local airlines, including Biman Bangladesh Airlines, we will continue to experience a loss of foreign currency.”

Meanwhile, the CAAB has declined a proposal for a fifth-freedom of air privileges – for flight operations to a third country from Bangladesh – to airlines of the United Arab Emirates.

In a discussion on 16 May, four UAE airlines – Emirates, Etihad, Fly Dubai, and Air Arabia – proposed increasing their air traffic to Bangladesh and getting 5th Freedom rights on various routes.

“Currently considering the operations of the 3rd terminal at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, it will not be possible to increase the number of flights, so it has been decided to keep the current rate of flights at that level,” said a CAAB press release.

According to the airport authorities, a majority of foreign airlines choose to operate flights from Dhaka due to the high volume of daily flights at Shahjalal Airport. The airport handles approximately 160 international flights, 170 domestic flights, and numerous cargo flights daily.

Additionally, there are several general aviation helicopters in operation. Overall, an average of 350 flights take place at Dhaka airport every day.

With an average of around 30,000 passengers utilising the airport daily, it serves as a vital transportation hub. Cargo flights also play a significant role in carrying hundreds of tonnes of goods through the airport.

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