If we start slipping in aviation, it'll be hard to catch up
-A Monitor Report
01 Nov, 2017  |
Mofizur Rahman, Managing Director, NOVOAIR
Dhaka : Bangladesh has more prospects than others, specially in the field of aviation. This sector is moving ahead fast, particularly in the Asia Pacific region. If we fail to utilise the country's potentials and cannot keep up with the pace of changes, we'll start slipping. If we start slipping, it will be hard to catch up.
Mofizur Rahman, Managing Director, NOVOAIR said while talking to The Bangladesh Monitor on the challenges, he faced while operating an airline in Bangladesh. He regretted the absence of mindset, lack of policy and infrastructural support.
Mofizur Rahman, who has always spoken out at different forums for rules and regulations, conducive growth of aviation sector and lowering of different fees and charges, said correct policies are absent (at the policy level). Those who are to provide the policy supports, either do not understand it and, if they understand, do not make an effort to address these problems.
Passenger demand is driving aviation sector growth. But Infrastructure, which is important requirement to accommodate the growth, is way, way below the expectations. You go to the domestic terminal of Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport (HSIA) and you will find it is crowded most of the time.
It is also crowded inside Cox's Bazar airport terminal, forcing passengers to stand outside in the sun or in inclement weather. The condition of Jessore airport, inaugurated over three decades ago, has deteriorated instead of improving.
None can do it (construct big infrastructures and provide required facilities) at private level. So, it has to be done by the government, he said, adding, small structures necessary, say for operating helicopters, could have been allowed.
There is no parking space at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport. NOVOAIR aircrafts have to be parked in a dangerous area. The aircraft may be damaged anytime. Though we were assured of tarmac expansion two years ago, the project is yet to receive approval from the ECNEC.
NOVOAIR's priority is domestic operations, then the airline will fan out in the international arena. Because of the fundamental shift in the strategy, we had to realign the fleet, but we had few options in the low-fare regime, prevailing in the country. So, we opted for ATR 72-500.
I think this will provide us long term stability and sustainability. It seems we have taken the correct decision. Of course, a significant number of our frequent fliers did not take it (change from EMB-145 to ATR 72-500) easily. But over time, they got used to it.
He said, there is no reason they wouldn't. ATR is the most popular turboprop in the Asia Pacific region, occupying 82 per cent market share. We ensure comfortable journey by carrying out preventive maintenance in the aircrafts' air-conditioning system.
Passengers are happy now. There is no dissatisfaction. From that point of view I would say, opting for ATRs was a good choice.
Mofizur Rahman said there has been some 800 per cent capacity increase to Cox's Bazar. Others are operating jets with bigger capacity, but instead of decreasing, NOVOAIR's passenger numbers have increased. It shows they are taking our service level into consideration.
The airline plans to add two more ATR 72-500s. Our target is 100 per cent on-time performance. It will help the airline in maintenance rotation, beating the weather factor and averting any sequential delays caused by Dhaka-Chittagong airspace congestion.
The airline has two more domestic destinations in our mind_ Barisal and Rajshahi. NOVOAIR will serve the two destinations, when two more aircraft are inducted into the fleet. Then we'll explore one or two Indian destinations, he said.
For an airline like NOVOAIR, to explore a destination is a risky game. We cannot come to any conclusive decision with the data available. The fundamental basis of data to be collected and collated is absent. We always have to keep in mind that taking steps on guesstimates, may turn out to be wrong steps.
Giving an example of economic growth driving demand, he gave the example of Saidpur. Once flights to this northern airport was NGO based. Their officials based in Rangpur and Dinajpur used to fly to Dhaka in the morning and return in the evening. That was the pattern.
A new segment has opened up, which has led to exponential growth. A number of agro-based investments has taken place in the northern region, whose investors live in Dhaka. Nilphamari and Saidpur have EPZs. There are big agro-projects in Rangpur and tea gardens in Dinajpur. Thus economic opportunities have developed in the northern region.
The road communication with the northern region of the country has become lengthy. The roads are in a very deplorable condition. People habituated to travelling by road are now opting for air travel. Even lots of families are now travelling by air. A new segment has come up altogether. Rajshahi's economy does not support (substantial) air traffic, but Saidpur's economy does.
Regarding fares, Mofizur Rahman said, we have to come to a sensible level (of fares).Otherwise the aviation industry will continue to suffer, and dominance of foreign carriers will continue. According to him, the departure of Oman Air was due to the low-fare regime, prevailing in the country. "They are sensible people. They saw it was a significant long-term low-fare, yeild is much bellow the acceptable level. Operating here was unnecessarily burning the energy."
Myanmar was different_ we started with 45 per cent load factor and reached up to 75. We had a significant passenger base in expatriates_ foreigners living here, e.g., from the embassies, high commissions, multinational corporations and leading business houses.
Had the fare been at a logical level, it would have been a sustainable route. Before October 2016, we were almost coming into breakeven. At one point we were thinking of operating five flights a week.
But national carrier Biman, as usual, slashed the fare by 50 per cent. When the Rohingya crisis started cropping up, the load factor started diminishing. Myanmar authorities used to harass at least four to five passengers with confirmed visas on every flight. The news soon spread and travelers started avoiding going to Myanmar. After carrying Ijtema traffic, we suspended the route in January this year.
Despite limited resources, NOVOAIR has been training youths, specially in the technical side. Some outstanding youths have emerged. They will form the future backbone of the country's airlines, Mofizur Rahman concluded.