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29 March, 2020 00:00 00 AM

COVID-19 forces crash-landing

COVID-19 forces crash-landing

Airlines of Bangladesh have been hit the hardest by the massive global coronavirus outbreak. The worldwide travel ban has directly affected the country's airlines, putting operators under extreme financial pressure.  

Revenues are in free fall as travel restrictions mount amid fears of infection, with people spending hours in enclosed spaces.

All the  airlines companies of the country have suspended their flights —both domestic and international— from March 25.

The suspension will remain effective from March 25 to April 4, according to officials of aviation companies. This period could even be extended.

In a chain reaction, this has affected other sectors of the country which rely on airlines, such as tourism, labour market, RMG, and the job market.  

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the coronavirus could wipe out any amount between USD 63 billion and USD 113 billion in worldwide airline revenues this year. The losses would be similar to those experienced by the aviation industry during the global financial crisis of 2008, the IATA warned, as it dramatically increased its estimate of the damage caused by the outbreak.

The IATA also said airlines could lose 19 per cent of their businesses if the virus was not contained soon.

Bangladeshi airlines would face irrecoverable losses too. Airlines businesses have been hit the hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, as experts see the airlines are responsible for helping spread the coronavirus to the four corners of the earth.

Biman Bangladesh Airlines, the national flag carrier, has incurred a loss of Tk. 270 crore since February to March this year, said an official of Biman.

Biman operates 142 weekly flights both domestic and international destinations. But Biman has suspended its all flights in both trajectories. Today Biman to fly its last flight to London and Manchester, as Biman suspended its of these routes till April 15.

Earlier, Biman had cut all of its flights around the globe, except to London and Manchester, amid the global travel ban. But after a massive breakdown of COVID-19 in United Kingdom compelled Biman to cut its wing in this destinations.

It has also cancelled all of its domestic flights following the governmental decision.

Biman has already postponed its plan to expand its operation to two new routes—Sharjah and Bahrain. With six new Dreamliners in its fleet, Biman was planning to expand its operation to India and Middle East, but the plans have been shelved in the aftermath of the coronavirus.

Biman is now limiting its business by cutting various costs instead of expansion,” said a Biman official, who preferred not to be named.

“The rapid suspension of flights in both domestic and international routes has put massive pressure on the revenue flow of the company,” he also said.

“If the current situation continues, it will be difficult to repay the loans for the airlines,” he added.

Insiders say Biman may need government subsidies to bounce back from this current crisis.

Apart from Biman, there are three domestic private airlines companies—NOVOAIR, US-Bangla Airlines, and Regent Airways—which are in operations in the country.

NOVOAIR, a domestic private airline established in 2007, operates nine flights with seven carriers in its fleet. It runs eight domestic flights and one international flight to Kolkata. It operates 28 flights daily.

But NOVOAIR authorities have suspended all its domestic and international flights from March 25 till April 4 in view of the travel ban.

Mesbah ul Islam, head of marketing and sales of NOVOAIR, said: “We have already suspended all our 28 flights on both domestic and international routes. The plunge in flight numbers caused huge losses for the company.”

“We are yet to know the estimated losses due to flight cancellation. But the company will incur massive losses,” he also said.

“The number of domestic passengers declined by 25 to 30 per cent as people are trying to avoid mass gatherings and travel,” he added.

US-Bangla, the largest private local airline, operates 16 flights, both domestic and international, with their 12 carriers. It operates 98 flights weekly. Amid the current crisis, the airline has declared the suspension of their flights from March 25 till April 4.

The US-Bangla has suspended all of its flights on international routes, except a flight to China. The company has suffered losses ranging from Tk. 40 crore to Tk. 50 crore due to the decline in the number of flights.

Kamrul Islam, assistant general manager of US-Bangla Airlines, said: “We operate 98 flights weekly. But now, the number has come down to six. Following the government’s directive, we’ve already suspended all our domestic flights till April 4.”

“The situation is deteriorating. We don’t know what lies ahead. But it’s certain that we will incur huge losses due to the pandemic,” he also said.

“To stem the spread of the coronavirus, most of the countries have banned air travel. We planned to expand our international flights to Delhi and Chennai  in India, but the plan has been put on hold,” he added.

The US-Bangla is now limiting other expenses and stopping investment in the capital market to cope with the current situation.

The airlines are now going for cost-cutting measures to survive. Biman Bangladesh Airlines has already announced a 10 per cent cut in basic salaries and slashed nine other benefits and allowances for its employees from the rank of officer and above.

Although private airlines are yet to cut jobs or slashed benefits, they are likely to do that if the crisis continues.

To bounce back from this situation, airline companies need financial support from banks, according to airlines officials.

The cancellation of flights has caused massive suffering for migrant workers and impacted the country’s inflow of remittance. Manpower exports have also declined due to the suspension of flights.

A Biman official said the airline has already suspended flights to Kuwait, Qatar, and other Middle Eastern countries.

The number of flights on other routes of the Gulf region, the hub of the labour market for Bangladesh, has also been slashed, he added.



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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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