In the first 17 days of this month, the country’s two private airlines operated 552 domestic flights with 16,334 passengers, and the state-owned Biman operated just two carrying 24.
Biman Bangladesh Airlines operated the flights between Dhaka and Saidpur on June 1, the day the government eased the air travel restrictions. That was all. The company then gave up, saying too few people were flying.
However, aviation industry insiders said the main reason why people were not choosing Biman was that its tickets were pricier than the ones sold by private airlines US-Bangla and Novoair.
The private airlines had base fares at around Tk 2,000 after the coronavirus restrictions were lifted. But Biman’s base fare was around Tk 3,000.
“Other airliners are selling tickets at lower prices. But we don’t want to engage in an unhealthy competition,” a senior Biman official said, requesting anonymity.
“Instead of domestic flights, we are focusing on chartered flights on international routes [and domestic routes], which are profitable,” he added.
On June 4, Biman for the first time offered chartered flights on domestic round trips for families at a cost of between Tk 3 lakh and Tk 5 lakh depending on the distance and time spent on the ground. But nobody has so far shown any interest in taking the offers.
Biman CEO Mokabbir Hossain told a reporter last week that the turnover from domestic flights was too small.
“For Tk 2,000 airfare on a domestic route, the government takes Tk 538 in travel tax. With just Tk 1,462, how will we operate the flights and pay for fuel and other things?” he asked.
But Novoair and US-Bangla had base fares at around Tk 2,000 until last week when the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh fixed it at Tk 2,500.
Novoair Managing Director Mofizur Rahman said the goal of the industry for the time being was to bring back the habit of flying in people. Ticket prices are not the biggest concern at the moment.
“We hope the number of passengers will rise when the situation becomes more normal,” said Mofizur, also the secretary general of the Aviation Operators Association of Bangladesh.
ALMOST NO SALES CAMPAIGN
Biman also did not launch the sales campaign needed to get back to business after being grounded for over two months due to the pandemic.
US-Bangla and Novoair officials said they were running campaigns targeting social media and internet users. They also sent text messages to people highlighting their promotional offers.
A Biman official said his company was not using that avenue at all.
The flag carrier also stopped selling tickets through travel agents, which must have dented its sales, said Monsur Ahmed Kalam, president of Association of Travel Agents of Bangladesh.
“The problem lies in its mismanaged and inefficient marketing strategies,” aviation expert Kazi Wahidul Alam said.
“The efficiency required to resume a service after a long while was not there … Besides, Biman sells tickets only on their website, mobile app, and at a few sales centres. It doesn’t use the travel agents and Global Distribution System like others do,” he added.
OTHERS TAKE TO THE SKY
Meanwhile, private airlines US-Bangla and Novoair have been flying their planes on four domestic routes.
US-Bangla Airlines has 13 planes, Novoair has seven, and Biman has 18.
As of June 17, US-Bangla and Novoair flew 16,334 passengers, said Group Captain AHM Touhid-ul Ahsan, director of Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, adding that the latest data would be available soon.
Biman became a limited company in 2007 aiming to make profits and run independently.
MA Momen, who was the managing director and CEO at the time, said Biman might as well leave the domestic routes to private airlines, because domestic flyers certainly have no confidence in it.
“The private airlines will act as feeder for Biman. They will carry passengers from different domestic airports to Dhaka and Biman will fly them abroad,” he said.
After a long losing streak, the flag carrier made profit for several years in a row when Momen was leading it.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh resumed passenger flight operations on a limited scale on Sylhet, Saidpur and Chattogram routes on June 1. Flights on the Jashore route resumed on June 11.