US-Bangla Airlines eyes expansion
US-Bangla Airlines is going to procure a record 26 aircraft soon to expand its routes and capture a major pie of the country's aviation market currently dominated by foreign operators.
"This will be the single highest order for aircraft purchase in the aviation history of Bangladesh," said Mohammed Abdullah Al Mamun, managing director of the largest private airline in Bangladesh, during an interview recently.
At present, US-Bangla Airlines runs one flight to each of its destinations whereas foreign airlines operate four to five flights.
"We will never be able to become a market giant or capture a significant share if we operate one or two flights daily," he said.
Foreign airlines control 75 percent of Bangladesh's aviation market while three Bangladeshi airlines hold the rest.
Apart from operating flights on the country's all domestic routes, US-Bangla flies to 11 international destinations using its fleet of 20 aircraft, which include eight Boeing 737-800s, nine ATR 72-600s and three Dash 8-Q400s.
"Discussions are going on with both Boeing and Airbus to purchase the aircraft," said Mamun.
Once the procurement plan materialises, the total number of aircraft of the airline will go up to 46.
Asked about using the new fleet of aircraft, Mamun said, "We will double the number of daily flights on almost all destinations where we now operate a single flight."
The operator plans to turn the Shah Amanat International Airport its second-biggest hub since 60 percent to 70 percent of Bangladeshis who reside in the UAE, Oman and Qatar are from the Chattogram region.
Using the new fleet of planes, US-Bangla will also spread its wings to new destinations.
Mamun also touched upon the barriers holding back the local aviation industry.
"The main obstruction is our operating cost is much higher compared to our neighbouring countries because of higher aeronautical and non-aeronautical charges, custom duties and jet fuel prices and a lack of skilled workforce."
He said the customs duty on aircraft is almost zero in India compared to Bangladesh.
Similarly, the price of jet fuel in Dhaka is around $3.44 per gallon while it is $2.94 in Kolkata.
According to the managing director, many countries in the region have brought in major changes to their aviation industry in the past 15-20 years on the back of friendly policies.
"If we get such support from the government, we will also be able to reach their status."
He thinks no operators will be able to sustain if the backward linkage for the airline industry doesn't develop in Bangladesh.
In India, a huge backward linkage industry for airlines has been developed. It is not possible for airlines alone to build such a backward linkage sector, he said.
He said Bangladesh urgently needs an engineering school to create qualified professionals. Owing to the absence of such a facility, private airlines are fully dependent on foreign engineers.
There are 35 to 40 foreign engineers at US-Bangla Airlines and they come to work every alternate month.
"You need to provide them with accommodation, air tickets, chefs and other facilities. As a result, a huge amount of remittance goes out of the country," said Mamun.
Another lacking is Bangladesh doesn't have a flying school, he said.
US-Bangla Airlines is going to set up one engineering school and one flying school by this year. The company has also taken an initiative to create 100 cadet pilots at its own cost.
"We have already sent 22 students to the US so that they can receive quality education and training to become pilots," Mamun added.