Bangladesh is the loser, as Osmani Int. lost opportunity

osmaniDhaka : Osmani International Airport (OIA) in Sylhet, the third so-called international airport in the country, has lost a golden opportunity to become “real international,” due to refusal in providing ground handling service to a Regent-flydubai code shared flight recently.
Early this month, an effort by local private airline Regent Airways and flydubai, the budget carrier from UAE to extend air connection of Sylhet to outside world failed, due to inability of Bangladesh authorities to provide necessary logistics. Bangladesh became the loser, because of this.
After just one flight on April 1, that too negotiating difficulty, because of adverse local conditions, the operation was suspended. An order of Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) on April 2 in this regard says “the flight schedule approved for the Code Share operations to and from Sylhet by Regent Airways and flydubai, will remain suspended till further order due to the capacity limitation in Sylhet Airport and ground handling crisis”.
The history
On March 15, 2011 CAAB and General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) of UAE signed MOU including Sylhet as an additional point of call in the route schedule, subject to readiness of Sylhet Airport for international operation.
It may be recalled that on December 31, 2012, CAAB designated Regent Airways as another designated airlines of Bangladesh as per the provision of the Air Services Agreement between Bangladesh and United Arab Emirates. CAAB requested UAE General Aviation Authority to allow Regent Airways to operate weekly 5 flights in Dhaka-Abu Dhabi-Dhaka sector.
On February 26, 2015, CAAB allowed flybubai and Air Arabia to operate to Sylhet. “Considering the excellent bilateral relationship between our two brotherly countries and the present status at Sylhet, CAAB agrees in principal to grant permission to flybubai and Air Arabia to operate in Sylhet”.
On March 5, 2015 GCAA of UAE informed CAAB about its no objection to Code Share Agreement between flydubai and Regent Airways for Dubai-Sylhet-Dubai route. It further said that under the agreement, flydubai would be operating carrier and Regent Airways would be marketing carrier.
CAAB also approved the code share agreement signed between the two airlines to operate code share flight in the route between Sylhet-Dubai-Sylhet route.
On March 5, 2015 flydubai, Dubai’s first budget airline, announced that the carrier will be launching five direct weekly flights to MAG Osmani International Airport of Sylhet from April 1 and daily from May 4 onwards. The five-hour plus flight will be operated by B737-800s.
Sylhet will be its third destination in Bangladesh. The Sylhet operation is in joint partnership with Regent Airways, Bangladesh. The airlines declared on the day that they would operate five flights from Sylhet every week, except Sunday and Thursday.
Following the announcement of flight schedule, tickets for the flights were released for sale.
On March 10, 2015, CAAB approved flight schedule of flydubai’s code share operation to Sylhet.
Biman’s refusal
Meanwhile, Biman expressed its inability to provide ground-handling support to flydubai flight at Osmani airport.
Referring this refusal CAAB in a letter to Managing Director and CEO of Biman on 25 March 2015 said “Biman is operating its international flights to and from Osmani International Airport, regularly with B777-300ER and the aircraft is handled by Biman ground service. As such, it assumes that as a Ground Handling Agent, Biman is fully capable to provide ground handling to other carriers using aircraft up to B777. Regent Air will be using B737-800 aircraft for their codeshare operations to Sylhet.”
The CAAB requested Biman to provide ground handling support and said, “In these circumstances, for the smooth operation at Osmani International Airport, Sylhet, you are requested to ensure providing ground handling support to Regent Airways for their scheduled flights to be commenced from April 1, 2015”.
But Biman ignored CAAB request and refused to handle flydubai flight. As code share partner, Regent Airways asked permission of provide ground-handling services. But CAAB and Biman denied the request.
The situation put flydubai in very difficult position. Every mobilisation was complete to start operation of the flight from April 1. All seats of the flights scheduled for the month of April were also booked within first four days of the month.
To save the situation, permission for only April 1 was given and as codeshare partner Regent Airways was allowed to provide ground-handling services.
No legal flaw
From various official documents, it is evident that there is no legal flaw for the fiasco centering flydubai’s operation to Sylhet. The fiasco brought to the fore that some interested quarters are active to sacrifice greater national interest for small petty interest.
The end in suspension of the promising operation of flydubai to Sylhet at the very start is unfortunate.
It is also learnt that Air Arabia was also getting ready to start operation to Sylhet. Following flydubai fiasco, operation of Air Arabia has become uncertain.
Global effort & BD
Countries all over the world are in numerous ways, trying to woo airlines to use their airports. This is primarily to get some return from huge investment that is required in building the facility as well as to expand connectivity with other countries by air. Both the objectives are for serving greater national interest.
Unfortunately in Bangladesh, greater national interest has become subservient to petty interest. We have seen total failure of the authority, to make better use of Shah Amanat International Airport in Chittagong, after the expansion and up-gradation at huge cost.
The effort of Thai Airways International to manage the airport and make it truly international after winning a bid failed, because the authority could not handover the airport. Except flights of some Middle Eastern budget carriers, the user of the airport remained confined to domestic airlines, despite huge potential.
The situation at Osmani International Airport is real bad. Though it was declared as an International Airport in 1998, due to shortage of fuel supply, it could not be used by the international flights for years. Couple of years back Osmani International Airport got significant facelift with additional facility, at a huge cost.
Both SAIA and OIA are continuing to be highly underused. No effort to market these facilities and increase use is there. Despite potential, the two airports are not in a position to run from own income.
There is urgent need to apply political will, to use civil aviation facilities in the country for the interest of the nation, not for any group or organisation.

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