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Coronavirus: Can Bangladesh's aviation sector avoid collapse?

  • Published at 05:50 am April 18th, 2020
File photo of a Biman plane Courtesy

With most countries suspending flights indefinitely to battle the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the global aviation industry is quite literally in a desperate battle for survival

In an interview with Dhaka Tribune's Mamun Abdullah, Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) Chairman Air Vice Marshal M Mafidur Rahman said that airlines were trying to minimize losses by downsizing their manpower and fleets which were not only affecting the country’s economy but also hindering its development.

He urged the government to come forward in support of the country’s aviation industry so that it could regain its functional ability and operational status once the Covid-19 crisis was minimized.

How is the ongoing coronavirus outbreak affecting Bangladesh’s aviation sector?

Just like other countries, the aviation sector of Bangladesh has also been severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. We all have lost huge sums of revenue since the beginning of the outbreak. The number of air passengers has declined drastically. This has also slowed down some of the expansion and airport development projects here.

What have you done to ensure the safety of crew members and passengers?

As chairman of CAAB, I have ensured the implementation of various awareness programs regarding coronavirus and how one can be safe from it as per the public health directives issued by ICAO, IATA, ACI, EASA and FAA.

As chairperson of the National Air Transport Facilitation Committee, I also arranged a number of urgent meetings to discuss various issues related to the virus, including the necessary preventive measures to ensure the safety of our crew members, passengers and other aviation officials. Steps taken by other friendly countries and their CAAs to fight the pandemic too were shared during these meetings.

If the current situation is prolonged and aviation companies continue to incur losses, it will become difficult for them to pay their staff members. Given such a situation, do you think those involved with this sector will lose their jobs?

The current situation is very uncertain and difficult for me to predict how great our losses will be. But it's obvious that airlines will have to go through a very tough time to overcome their losses. Many western companies have opted for firing their employees and downsizing their operations as a response to this crisis. 

Similarly, airlines here will have to develop contingency plans and make constant adjustments in their business strategies to survive this difficult period.

Most countries are imposing bans and airlines are cancelling their flights. What impact will this have in the long run?

There will be diverse effects of the suspension of flights either by the state or by airlines worldwide forced by the virus. 

Airlines globally are incurring significant financial losses as it is due to the pandemic, unable to make any profit whatsoever, which is resulting in increased debt. They are being forced to reduce their operational capabilities and training programs for their crews. Aviation companies are also losing maintenance status of their aircraft and depreciation costs of expensive aircraft and spares.

They are trying to reduce their losses by downsizing but all this will ultimately obstruct the country's economy and overall progress.

The number of tourists and travellers has seen a sharp decline due to the ongoing crisis. What impact will this have on domestic airlines?

Domestic aviation operators, just like other global companies, are also experiencing similar impacts due to the reduction of air travellers, including tourists.

What can we do to ensure a sustainable aviation industry? What can be the strategies to overcome this situation?

As aviation industries globally play a vital role in the socio-economic development of their countries, special attention from the government is needed to save and support this sector so that it can regain its functional ability and operational status in the future. 

However, companies will have to be determined about overcoming their losses with support from the government and through aggressive marketing strategies. They will have to take full advantage of the opportunity that is likely to present itself after the ongoing situation improves.

Will most of the domestic airlines face bankruptcy if the current situation continues?

If this situation continues for a very long period, obviously it’ll be very difficult for our industry to recover even with support from the government. 

Moreover, if airlines fail to meet the coming challenges due to non-professional management, lack of vision, wrong priorities and goals, and fails to prepare fitting strategies, then probably it’ll be very difficult for some particular companies to survive this unprecedented situation.

The country's aviation industry has been hit hard. What consequences will this have on the country's growth? 

We, under the dynamic leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, have achieved a positive momentum in recent times. Some institutional and infrastructural developments have been attained and some are in the process so that we can mature to international standards just like the developed countries. 

However, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, all our efforts are in suspension now. 

This has hampered the growth process of professionals and aviation experts required for achieving sustainable economic growth of Bangladesh.

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