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Biman wants more slots in Saudi Arabia to transport Hajj pilgrims

  • Published at 01:09 am August 3rd, 2017
Biman wants more slots in Saudi Arabia to transport Hajj pilgrims
Aiming to resolve the ongoing uncertainty over Hajj flights, Biman Bangladesh Airlines has applied to Saudi Arabian civil aviation authority to allot more slots (landing permission) for transporting Hajj pilgrims. Shakil Meraj, general manager and spokesperson of Biman, confirmed the matter to the Dhaka Tribune on Wednesday, saying: “We need more slots to transport pilgrims in Saudi Arabia as several Biman Hajj flights have been cancelled. “Biman authorities have sought more slots to carry all the Hajj pilgrims on time to Saudi Arabia.” As of on Wednesday evening, 12 out of 144 slots have already been cancelled. The uncertainty grew for many Hajj pilgrims due to visa complications coupled with additional Moallem (Hajj guide) and repeat pilgrim fees. On Tuesday, Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister Rashed Khan Menon said more than 40,000 pilgrims may not perform Hajj this year owing to visa processing problem. Sources said this year Saudi Arabia has increased the Moallem fees for separate categories. This year the fee for Category C Moallems has been raised to 700 Saudi Riyals, up from 600 Saudi Riyals in 2016. But, the Category C quota has already been booked mainly by Indians and Pakistanis, causing Bangladeshi pilgrims to go for Category B Moallems, whose fee is 1,500 Saudi Riyals, which is way too expensive for many of them. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia imposed 2,000 Riyals (Tk44,000) as additional fees on repeat pilgrims (who performed Hajj in 2015 and 2016). Following the situation, Bangladeshi pilgrims are grappling to pay the fees and additional charges, causing complications in visa processing, which is a major reason for Biman to cancel flights. Abbas Uddin Bhuiya, from Sylhet, who is supposed to fly for Jeddah on Monday, said until on Wednesday he did not receive his passport and visa, despite paying the fees required and submitting necessary documents. Abdul Quader, owner of Iqra Travels and Tours, said Bangladeshi Hajj agencies could not reach Saudi Arab on time, and India and Pakistani Hajj agencies took the opportunity to book Category C Moallem quota. Till date, the national flag carrier has already cancelled nine flights as they failed to get the stipulated Hajj pilgrims on board on time. When contacted, Tajul Islam, managing director of Khaja Air Services Limited, said: “The crisis arose due to the last minute decision of the Saudi Arabian government to hike the fees.” Tajul said he had 287 Hajj pilgrims, including 14 repeat pilgrims. A total of 273 pilgrims got visa on Wednesday and the rest will receive theirs only upon paying the additional money. While visiting Ashkona Hajj camp on Tuesday, Menon said some 85,000 out of 127,000 pilgrims were yet to get their passports, whereas over 7,000 pilgrims could not go to Saudi Arabia due to visa complications. Until on Wednesday, 41,714 pilgrims got visas. He, however, blamed the Religious Affairs Ministry and Hajj agencies for the situation. In a latest development, Menon declared all Saudi Arabia-bound flights as Hajj flights in an inter-ministerial meeting held at the Secretariat on Wednesday, to help ease the crisis.