Promoting domestic air travel industry (The Financial Express (Bangladesh))

If we like to analyse the growth of a country, we should talk about transport and communication system as integral to the subject. In most of developed countries transport and communication system is given very high priority. Even in many of our Asian economies, such as Singapore Malaysia Indonesia, Philippines, we see excellent infrastructure for the transport and communication sector.

Transport and communication system covers movement of transports by road, rail, water and air. All transports are equally important to a country. But because of geographic and technical reasons certain types of transports are developed for easy and cheap means of communication. For example, Indonesia is an island-country comprising large number of islands and that is why, the country has extensively developed its aviation network as it is difficult to develop direct road communication between different parts of the country. Being the world’s largest archipelago (containing thousands of islands), air travel is a logical option for fast travel across the country. Moreover, Indonesia’s investment scenario makes it viable for domestic companies to finance expansion programmes.

Bangladesh is developing in many fields. In some areas of social development, Bangladesh has progressed well ahead of the neighbouring countries, including India. But we need to understand the gap between actual progress and potentials for progress, i.e. where we are and where we could be if things we properly in place. In many areas there are immense scopes for development. Facilitating faster and cheaper means of transport is one area where we need focus seriously. We are well aware about our road and rail transport. If we talk about road transport, we see that we lag behind many of neighbouring countries. For example, travelling a small distance of 250 kms takes at least 7 hours. Even in some cases 150 KM area takes 6 hours. From Dhaka to Cox’s Bazaar it takes 12 hours. For more than seven years, Dhaka-Chittagong four lane highway construction work is going on, but with little progress. Rail transport in Bangladesh is equally slow and the service quality is appalling.

Without developing the communication system it is impossible to maintain the pace of economic growth. One of the modes of transport left uncared in the country is air transport system. Air transport is popular because it is the fastest mode of transport. But at the same time it is expensive. In India, the difference between train and air fare is not much. But in Bangladesh, the gap between air transport and other modes of transport is wide. That is why, people don’t prefer to travel by air. But if price is reduced, a greater degree of demand will be created. For example, if price is reduced by fifty per cent and demand increases more than fifty per cent, then naturally more revenue will be generated. During Eid holidays and tourist seasons, Biman can utilise its full capacity. Recently, Biman offered discounted air ticket for all domestic routes. It is an effective as well as a timely initiative.

Easy movement will increase economic activities. Tourism, trade and investment are expected to increase manifold. One important advantage of the country is that although a small one, Bangladesh has three international airports, besides a number of domestic airports most of which are underutilised. Instead of Biman, few privately owned airlines are operating in the country. Previously, three airlines — Aerobengal, Air Parabat and GMG Airlines — failed to do business though their service quality was good. One of the reasons behind their failure was inadequate government support, tax structure and fuel and other costs.

Domestic airlines industry is an infant industry in Bangladesh and needs to be nurtured. But if they are targeted by the government from the very start for revenue generation, then it becomes difficult for them to survive. The government should look into the matter and take necessary steps to render domestic air travel industry viable.