Zia International Airport (ZIA)-the gateway to Bangladesh by air- has gone through massive infrastructural change over the last few years to provide airlines with more space and better services. The customs hall, passenger lobby and corridors look much better and bussiness-like now.
But the airlines allege that the ground handling facilities are still poor due to lack of proper attention and necessary investment. There is reportedly serious shortage of ground support equipment along with manpower shortage and inefficient handling. The problem is particularly serious in the handling of cargo of perishable items.
The reason is clear. Ground and cargo handling at ZIA is the monopoly of Biman Bangladesh Airlines. Biman over the years has failed to make investment on new equipment as well as recruit required manpower. These have resulted in poor service to the users. Biman is earning revenue-around Taka 800 million a year from this source. But the national flag carrier has not given proper attention to the improvement of ground handling, it is alleged. The poor handling has also given rise number of problems including regular delay, for the foreign carriers. The problem is particularly serious for exporters who on regular basis miss the deadline given by buyers.
It is believed that Bangladesh could double its volume of vegetables and fruit export within a short span of time if only the air cargo service remain pro-active. The present size of this sector of the export trade is to the tune of Taka three billion a year. But the present volume of the export of perishable agricultural goods could be increased five-fold if the cargo space in Biman is increased to transport the goods in enough quantities and in time. The state run airlineer does also need modern equipment to handle the cargo business, said an official of Bangladesh Fruits and Vegetable Exporters Association.
The time is ripe to end the monopoly of Biman, so far cargo handling is concerned. The government should open the business of ground and cargo handling to other operators. The competition, according to airport users, will ensure efficiency as well as improvement in the quality of service.
An office bearer of Bangladesh Fruits and Vegetable Exporters Association said handling of cargo by Biman has always been a problem. "We are facing constant problems," he said adding "if I want to export 30 tons, Biman can handle only 10 tons resulting in serious business loss for me." This loss is ultimately incurred by the country as the buyers do not wait for Bangladesh, they go to alternative sources, he added.
Long ago there was an announcement from the state minister for civil aviation and tourism that as Biman is not able to meet the demand for the necessary cargo space wholly, a portion of the business of handling perishable goods would be handed over to other international cargo operators. But that announcement has not yet been implemented.