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Air cargo facilities inadequate
S M Jahangir

          Improved transportation facilities are prerequisites for the promotion of a country's economic growth. Without a vibrant transport system, no country can foster its trade and industrial development.
A balanced combination of sea, air and land transpiration systems makes a country's entire transport sector effective. Unfortunately, Bangladesh has failed to build up an adequate capacity in all the three areas, especially in the air cargo operation.
Cargo operation of the Bangladesh Biman is still poor, both in terms of airspace and handling of exportable items, according to sources.
Experts and local exporters suggest that the national flag carrier, Biman Bangladesh Airlines (BBA), must enhance its cargo carrying capacity in line with the ever-growing competition in the global market.
They often claim that an inadequate airspace for shipment of some particular exportable items, especially vegetables, fruits and readymade garments, is impeding the growth potential of the country's export sector.
Although the demand for airspace for local exportable items is on the rise over the years, the cargo carrying capacity of the Biman has not yet increased to meet the growing demand.
It is also argued that despite having an immense potential, the country is unable to enhance its due share of some non-traditional items in export markets due to the handicap.
According to official figures, the state-run Biman is now able to carry on an average 28,000 tonnes of cargo per year. The national flag carrier can accommodate nearly 45 per cent of the total exportable cargoes mainly destined for the USA, Canada, UK, Gulf countries, Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong.
On the other hand, some 16 other international airlines normally carry about 30,000 tons of different types of cargoes per annum, according to an official source.
Apart from the inadequate airspace, most of the airlines, including the national flag carrier, are often reluctant to carry vegetables and fruits, as carrying such weight cargo, according to them, is not economically viable.
Besides, cargo-handling capacity of the national flag carrier has not improved over the last few years. Another reason behind the chaotic air-cargo facilities is because of a poor participation of private entrepreneurs in this sector.
Presently, vegetables, fruits and frozen foods generally account for 75 per cent of the air cargo carried by both the local and international airlines. On the other hand, readymade garments are the major items among other dry cargoes.
The country is now able to earn between Tk 1.5 billion and 2.0 billion annually by exporting vegetables and fruits, they said, adding the earnings could at least be doubled provided adequate airspace is available.
Exporters claim that a handsome volume of exportable vegetables and fruits is offloaded frequently by airlines, causing huge financial losses to exporters.
The exporters have no option other than selling the offloaded items in the local market at lower rates, they said, adding, as a result, some exporters are fast losing their interest in exporting those items.
Acknowledging the insufficient cargo handling capacity of the local airline, an official recently said, "The national flag carrier has so far failed to enhance its capacity to cope with an enhanced demand for airspace."
As the demand for airspace for local exportable items grows by 10 to 15 per cent annually, the cargo service of the Biman is lagging far behind the demand growth, the official added.
The Biman's space crisis is mainly because of the fact that it had no plan to carry cargo in the past, the official observed.
Available information reveals that a good number of applications by exporters remain pending with the authorities concerned on a regular basis due to shortage of airspace.
There has been a growing demand for Bangladeshi vegetables, fruits, frozen foods in different ethnic markets of European and Middle East countries as a large number of Bangladeshis are staying there.
Taking the Biman's existing capacity into consideration, the official said it is hardly possible for the local airline to upgrade its cargo service without increasing its air fleet.
He also recommended purchase of Boeing-474 and Boeing-777 types of aircraft to facilitate shipments of exportable items.
Meanwhile, considering the Biman's insufficient cargo service, local exporters have long been pressing the government to procure special cargo aircraft to facilitate their country's exports.
Against the backdrop, the government took an initiative more than two years back to hire such aircraft but the move is yet to be materialised.


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