Biman Bangladesh Airlines has sought eight more slots from the Saudi Arabian civil aviation authority and leased another aircraft from Malaysia to ease the backlog of Hajj pilgrims hoping to fly to Mecca.
Biman spokesperson Shakil Meraj told the Dhaka Tribune that a Boeing 777 200 ER will be added to the Biman fleet on August 20, while the ariline had applied for the new slots, which act as landing permission to a particular destination.
“If we don’t get these slots, it will be difficult for us to send the rest of the pilgrims to Jeddah. We have no other alternative,” he said.
Amid the deepening crisis over carrying aspiring pilgrims, the government is also mulling to extend Hajj flight operations to August 28 from August 26.
Civil Aviation Minister Rashed Khan Menon, after visiting the Hajj camp in Ashkona, Dhaka and Biman head office on Monday, told reporters that the government had taken additional steps to deal with irregularities and negligence.
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“Around 15,000 pilgrims have yet to submit their passports for visa processing while 16 Hajj agencies have not sent any pilgrims,” he said. “It has been alleged that many agencies have delayed in renting houses there.”
The national flag carrier has transported a total of 29,373 pilgrims as of Monday while Saudi Arabian Airlines carried 33,135.
This year, 127,198 Bangladeshis are supposed to perform Hajj. On Sunday, only six Biman flights left for Saudi Arabia.
As many as 25 of the total 144 Hajj flights have been cancelled so far as pilgrims failed to board due to various complications. Of them, Biman called off 21 and Saudi Arabian Airlines four.
The cancelled flights, which could have carried about 11,000 pilgrims to Jeddah, amount to a loss of Tk44 crores in revenue.
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In a bid to make more aircraft available for these rescheduled flights, Biman has cancelled all Dhaka-Doha flights until August 26. It has also diverted larger aircraft from other routes and earmarked them for Jeddah.
The Boeing 777 ER aircraft, which have the capacity to carry 419 people, have temporarily been removed from the Dhaka-Dubai, Dhaka-Muscat, Dhaka-Abu Dhabi and Dhaka-Kuala Lumpur routes. The smaller Boeing 737, which can carry 163 people, will now operate on these routes.
Earlier, Saudi Arabian civil aviation authority allotted 14 additional slots at Biman’s request for the rescheduled Hajj flights.
However, these slots coincide with the departure times for Dhaka-London flights. Biman has already reduced the number of weekly flights on Dhaka-London route to one from four to accommodate more Hajj flights.