The movers and shakers of Biman Bangladesh Airlines appear to have lost for words to defend their organisation against the backdrop of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s decision not to use the national flag carrier for last two overseas trips. The Prime Minister is now in German city of Munich to attend the Munich Security Conference. She went to Germany by an Etihad Airways flight via Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.
Last month, she used Etihad for her outbound trip to Zurich to attend the meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos and returned home by an Emirates flights.
Though there was no formal announcement, many, including senior officials of Biman, Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Civil Aviation and Tourism, and the Prime Minister’s Office, do believe that the choice of foreign airlines to carry the Head of the government instead of the national flag carrier was made after the incident on November 27, last year when the Biman aircraft carrying Hasina had to make an emergency landing in Turkmenistan on her way to Budapest, the capital
of Hungary. About the incident, the Prime Minister herself said in Parliament that human hands are responsible behind the emergency landing.
Several investigations are underway in this regard and some engineers of Biman have been taken under custody in connection with the incident.
Earlier in June, the landing of the plane carrying the Prime Minister was delayed by about 50 minutes due to the presence of some objects on the runaway of the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport.
Although, the Biman hierarchies are publicly putting a brave face, they privately acknowledge that the Prime Minister’s preference of foreign airliners over Biman is nothing but a no-confidence in the national flag carrier. And, it is damaging both domestically and internationally the image of Biman, which has been struggling since its inception.
Having talked to a number of senior officials concerned, inconsistency is found in their statements.
Some officials are saying that it is not a big deal as the Prime Minister flew with foreign airlines in the past. When reminded that in the recent past the Prime Minister, apart from her trip to New York in September, last year, used Biman for her trips abroad, the same officials acknowledged the fact.
According to sources at the Prime Minister’s Office, there has been a ‘kind of instruction’ from Hasina that Biman will be used where possible. The Biman officials also acknowledged that they are familiar with the Prime Minister’s desire and ‘instruction’.
About her trip to Munich, a senior official argued that Biman does not have flight to Munich, therefore Etihad was chosen. When his attention was drawn to the fact that Biman does not have flights to Ulaanbaatar and Budapest yet the Prime Minister went to those places by Biman, he instantly agreed.
Some officials are saying that if the Prime Minister uses a Biman plane for her overseas trip, that plane remains grounded for a couple of days, creating problems in the schedule.
When asked why previously Biman is used knowing its impact on schedule, they could not provide appropriate answer.
“You know, I know, in fact everybody knows why the Prime Minister opted for foreign airliners. It is lack of confidence given the last two incidents. But, it is very difficult to acknowledge for Biman,” said a top Biman official.
When contacted, Civil Aviation and Tourism Minster Rashed Khan Menon told The Independent, “I don’t think it’s a no-confidence on the part of the Prime Minister.”
Without out commenting on the issue further, he referred the correspondent to the Prime Minister’s Military Secretary or Principal Secretary.
On Tuesday at a press conference, when Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali was asked how long the Prime Minister will continue ‘boycotting’ Biman, he said that it’s not a boycott rather shortage of aircraft is reason behind the use of foreign airlines.
“She will start using Biman when more aircraft will be added to the Biman fleet,” he said.
“Given the unwanted incidents, it is natural to affect the Prime Minister to some extent in terms of confidence in Biman. This is the last thing we wanted,” A M Mosaddique Ahmed, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Biman, told The Independent.
“We know the Prime Minister loves and supports Biman. We hope that very soon we will be able to serve the Prime Minister,” he said.
When contacted, Shakil Meraj, General Manager, Public Relations of Biman, refused to make any comments. Instead, he advised the correspondent to speak to the Foreign Ministry to know the reason behind choosing foreign airliners.
There is, however, a possibility that Biman may get the Prime Minister back soon, said government sources.
Prime Minister Hasina may use Biman for her trip to Indonesian capital Jakarta on March 6-7 to participate in the Leaders’ Summit in Commemoration of the 20th Anniversary of Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), they said.