In the last few years, the development of road and rail infrastructure in the country has affected the number of air passengers in the country. Two domestic airports in the country are at risk of closure due to lack of passengers.
According to the calculations of private airlines, the number of passengers on the domestic routes of the country has decreased by at least 30 percent. Private airlines Novo Air and US Bangla Airlines have already stopped flights at Barisal Airport due to lack of passengers. State flag carrier Biman operates only three flights a week at the airport.
Even a few years ago Jessore airport was one of the busiest airports in the country. The airport has 12 to 14 flights per day. Now the number of flights at the airport has reduced by almost two-thirds.
The cost of jet fuel or aviation fuel has more than doubled in the past few years. This has affected the rent. Due to the additional cost, many of those who used to opt for air travel to save time are turning to other modes. The annual growth in the number of air passengers has come to a halt. Added to this is the implementation of major development projects in roads and railways.
Aviation officials say that since direct train movement has started between Padma Bridge, Expressway and Cox’s Bazar-Khulna, it is possible to travel at low cost and easily. Its impact is on the sky.
Novo Air is selling two aircraft to Nepal’s Yeti Airlines to reduce passenger numbers. The company says that these two aircraft are currently not useful due to the decrease in the number of passengers. So the two aircraft are being sold to reduce the burden.
These airlines, which once operated flights on domestic routes, are now focusing on increasing international flights. For this they are buying at least three Airbus A-321 model aircraft.
Mofizur Rahman, managing director of NovoAir told Independent Digital, ‘The number of passengers on domestic routes has decreased by about 30%. As a result we are selling two of the seven aircraft in our fleet to Yeti Airlines. The remaining 5 aircraft will operate flights to domestic destinations.
At present the number of domestic airports in the country is seven. Apart from NovoAir, the national flag carrier Biman Bangladesh Airlines and the private US Bangla Air and Air Astra provide domestic passenger services.
Besides the Barisal route, the number of passengers on the Jessore route has also decreased significantly, according to another private airline, US Bangla. The airlines have suspended their flights to Barisal. And reduced flights to Jessore.
Kamrul Islam, general manager of the public relations and marketing department of the organization said, ‘Barisal and Jessore airports have been most affected due to infrastructure development. Where once six flights were operated daily to Jessore, now two flights are operated daily. As the number of passengers has decreased, the number of flights has decreased.
However, he is unwilling to accept the fact that overall air passengers have decreased. Kamrul said, ‘flights to these two destinations have decreased. But passenger demand has increased on Syedpur, Sylhet and Cox’s Bazar routes. There was some trouble due to the election last November. But in December or January, passengers are quite good.
Apart from infrastructure development, the increase in ticket prices due to inflation is also the reason for the decrease in passengers, experts believe.
Aviation expert Kazi Wahedul Alam said, ‘Barisal airport is almost closed now. The number of passengers has decreased in Jessore. Cox’s Bazar has also had some impact after the train started. But Cox’s Bazar is an exception because this airport is not only dependent on tourists. There are many activities of NGOs here. There are many economic establishments as well. As a result, it will be in demand.’
Kazi Wahedul Alam said, ‘People are now in some economic discomfort. As a result, the number of air passengers has naturally decreased. Now that the election is over, hopefully, the economy will turn around again. As a result, growth will be achieved in this sector again.’
However, aviation experts are not so optimistic about Barisal airport. The main reason is said to be its lack of connectivity with other airports except Dhaka. However, the journey to Barisal airport was not aimed at launching commercial flights in that sense.
In 1963, a runway of about 2,000 feet was built in Rahmatpur Union of Babuganj, Barisal to spray pesticides from the sky. At that time it was used as a plant protection port.
The runway was converted into an airport in 1985, but at that time commercial flights did not start here. The commercial journey of the airport began on July 17, 1995 with the operation of the first flight on the Dhaka-Barisal route by private airlines Aero Bengal. Biman Bangladesh Airlines started flights at the airport in November of that year.
There was a shortage of passengers on this route from the beginning. Commercial flights stopped at the airport in 2006 due to lack of passengers. After 9 years on April 9, 2015, flights started again at this airport. At present, the airport, established on 160.5 acres of land, has a runway length of 6,000 feet and a width of 100 feet. Experts do not see the future of Barisal airport if Barisal is not connected with other airports of the country except Dhaka. They emphasize the multi-purpose use of the airport for its commercial success.
Kazi Wahedul Alam said, ‘It has to be used in a different way. For example, stall aircraft that have 20-30 seats can be profitable to operate. The government should be proactive in this regard. Also, if flying academies are given the opportunity to use this airport, it will be useful.’