-By Raquib Siddiqi
Bangladesh Tourism Board (BTB)—the national tourism organisation devoid of any authority and effectiveness. Biman Bangladesh Airlines (Biman), the national flag carrier and other domestic private carriers are not in good health for various reasons. The hospitality industry has no guideline and supervision. The Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) still remains downgraded to category two.
Recognition of the importance of tourism, travel and aviation sectors for the development of the economy by government leaders is there, but unfortunately only in speeches. There is also no dearth of promise to improve these sectors on priority basis.
This is the situation of tourism, hospitality, air travel and aviation sectors in the country—a situation not at all favourable and desirable for healthy development of a growing market. .Yet so far no government action to fulfill the promises has followed. Ineffective BTB
In countries all over the world, where tourism is an important economic activity, there exist comprehensive laws on tourism covering all facet and ingredient of the industry. These laws allow the national tourism organisation to regulate activities of all the stake-holders of the industry, to improve standard of services and enhance image of the country.
In Bangladesh there is no such law. There is no single authority to regulate services of different stake-holders involved in the industry. Various activities or ingredients of tourism are under the jurisdiction of different organisations or departments. There to no coordination among numerous agencies involved.
It may be recalled that to kick start the proper development of tourism in Bangladesh, there was long standing demand for the creation of powerful and independent tourism authority like National Tourism Organisation (NTO).
In response to popular demand, immediate past care taker government, initiated a move to create a new NTO to replace BPC. A law designed to create a functional and powerful authority to facilitate development of tourism in the country as well as maintain discipline in the industry was drafted. A series of meetings of stakeholders were held to exchange views to give final shape to the proposed NTO. The NTO under the law was to perform the job of regulator and facilitator.
But some interested quarters worked to make the government to abandon the idea of an all powerful NTO as envisaged in the draft law.
The BTB that we have now is not the kind of tourism authority that the country needed. Created with no authority and independence—a critical structural void– Bangladesh Tourism Board (BTB), the new national tourist organisation (NTO) is too weak and not in a position to function effectively
Unplanned growth of hospitality industry
Not so long ago, the highly capital intensive hospitality industry of Bangladesh was dependent on public sector investment as the private sector was shy—very shy indeed. Now, the hospitality industry of the country is dominated by a vibrant private sector. In the span of little over three decades, private sector has greatly enriched the hospitality industry of the country…
Along with the hotels, the role of private sector should also be lauded for building hitherto unknown area like resorts. Within comparatively very short span of time, the sector has become enriched by attractive properties.
With more upscale hotels expected to start operation by 2016, the hotel room inventory in Dhaka city is going to be significantly better than what it is now.
The public sector, in other words the government, is no more required to invest in building hotels. But that does not mean that government now has nothing to do. In fact, government now has great responsibility as facilitator and regulator in guiding the sector in its planned growth. Unfortunately, however, the government has, this far, failed almost totally in discharging this responsibility.
Another aspect that needs immediate attention is proper manpower development—both in management and service cadres. If prompt action in this regard is not taken, the fast growing hospitality industry is going to suffer badly.
Biman in deep trouble
Biman Bangladesh Airlines Limited has made huge investment in new aircraft. With modern aircraft joining the fleet, skilled and efficient workforce is needed to ensure quality services, efficiency and profitability. But situation is just the opposite and can be termed as alarming.
In its fleet Biman now has four Boeing 777-300ERs with capacity of 419 each; two leased Boeing 777-200ERs with capacity of 319 each; two Airbus A310 with capacity of 221 and two leased Boeing 737-800 with capacity of 162 each. With the delivery of six more aircraft—two B737-800 and four Dreamliner B787–in future, the problem of unreliable fleet will vanish and the product value to be enhanced greatly.
It is an irony that when Biman had efficient manpower, it had no dependable fleet. Now when it finally acquired dependable fleet, it has no efficient manpower. Along with various other important matters, the question of developing qualified and efficient manpower, never got due attention of the management.
Pathetic manpower situation
There is absolutely no doubt that a different set of managerial skills and qualities are needed if airlines are to survive in the new environment. Innovative workforce is needed to meet the challenges of today’s changing business environment.
The efficiency and skills level of critical work force are now below par. In service industries like airlines, people are the greatest asset. But Biman Bangladesh Airlines is suffering from shortage of properly skilled efficient manpower at all levels.
It may be noted that in the over 40 years history of Biman, only about 40 officers in four batches could be recruited. Only a handful of these 40 directly recruited officers are still with Biman.
Considering situation prevailing in Biman, we strongly feel that Biman needs much more than just a professional expatriate CEO. Without actions to improve situation in other critical areas– professional management, proper manpower and non-interfering unions– appointment of CEO in isolation will not help Biman to get out of the hole.
The need is immediate corrective action to save the national flag carrier from fatal damage.
The condition of private airlines of the country is no better. Since the opening of the airline industry to private sector more than two decades ago, more private airlines have gone out of operation than the number airlines now flying.
In 1993, the government decided to allow private airlines to operate in selected domestic routes with ‘short take-off and landing (STOL)’ aircraft. In 2003, the government opened regional and international routes for private airlines. The last two decades saw the launching of 9 private airlines. Of these six—Aero Bengal, Air Parabat, GMG Airlines, Royal Bengal Airlines and Best Air—have gone out of business. Only four including two very new private airlines –United Airways (domestic and international) and Regent Airline (domestic and international), Novo Air (Domestic only) and US-Bangla Airline (Domestic only) — are now in operation.
Of the four airlines in operation, the older two—United Airways and Regent Airways—are reportedly struggling on a number of counts.
Despite growing market most of the private airlines in Bangladesh have failed to survive. Lack managerial and other airline industry related expertise as well as liquidity problem are to blame for going out of operation for majority of private airlines.
Here also, the government has failed to discharge its responsibility. The failure is related to providing support–technical or financial—to the nascent private airlines industry of the country.
The need of aviation
Since creation of CAAB in 1985, air traffic movement in Bangladesh and over flying have increased six to seven fold. In addition operational time and work at airports has increased two to three times compared to the past. But to keep pace with the increased air traffic movement and operational time, manpower has not been increased.
In 2009, in the audit report ICAO enlisted CAAB as Significant Security Concern (SSC). In its report, ICAO recommended to modernise organisational framework of some operational departments including FSR, ATS and Security, to bring efficiency and vitality by inducting more manpower.
Later in 2012 SSC was withdrawn on certain conditions. One of the important conditions was increase of manpower. Additional skilled manpower for concerned departments is needed to meet some important conditions imposed by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for elevating CAAB from Category-2 to Category-1.
From the point of view of national interest, the question of CAAB regaining category-1 status from existing category-2 has become very important.
While airports all over the world have beefed up security system, the aviation security system in Bangladesh still remains no better than makeshift arrangement. There is great deficiency in both equipment and manpower aspects of aviation security.
A recent research conducted by Boeing on the requirement of manpower demand of aviation professionals predicted that Airlines would need an average of 23,000 new pilots and 30,000 new maintenance personnel per year from 2010 to 2029. Only in the Asia-Pacific continent, the requirement for pilots is close to 2, 40,000.
The growth rate, both in terms of passenger and freighter services, is the highest in the region. While the aggregate global growth in passenger carrier is about 6 percent in the past few years, Bangladesh has registered an average 8 percent growth in the last three years. In cargo sector, the growth figure is phenomenal at 13 percent while global average is 7 percent.
At present, there are only three active Flying training and two Aircraft Maintenance Engineering training schools in Bangladesh. The annual output of pilots, maintenance engineers, ATC and other skilled manpower is extremely low. Moreover, most of these courses and trainings are done in a disconnected manner and therefore, lack in quality and professional expertise.
Judging from the prevailing situation it is quite clear that the position of Bangladesh, in the context of global demand, is rather grim and pathetic.
Under the circumstance, Bangladesh urgently needs to develop training facility for New Generation of Aviation Professionals (NGAP). The term NGAP is no longer limited to mean only pilots, engineers and air traffic controllers but also those involved in aviation activities such as aircraft manufacturers, technicians, ground handlers, cabin crew, inspectors and auditors, caterers, airport and aerodrome functionaries, cargo handlers, freight forwarders, security personnel, academicians, airline members, customs and immigration officials at the airports, and many more.
The move to establish a Civil Aviation Academy in Bangladesh is a very welcome and timely initiative. Because, aviation is now one of the most promising sectors in the world. Its growth rates both in terms of production of aircraft, and movement of passengers and cargo is phenomenal. There is now a world-wide scarcity of qualified people to conduct numerous aviation activities.
In 2013, CAAB initiated an effort to establish an upscale fully equipped Civil Aviation Academy in the country to meet local as well as global need of skilled manpower. It submitted a proposal to establish a training academy to be developed with its own fund and run by it.
Government decision on three very important civil aviation initiatives—new organogram with proper manpower as well as regaining of category one status, building of elite force for airport security and establishment of an aviation academy—are waiting for a fairly long time.
With unusually long delay in taking decision on the proposal of Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) to upgrade capability of the organisation to keep pace with development, the prospect of putting civil aviation on right track and regaining category one status is also getting delayed. At the same time the presence of makeshift security system with no united command continue to expose civil aviation of Bangladesh to threat.
Time has come for the government to wake up with a plan of action to end the neglect to proper development of tourism and aviation sectors.
(Former Acting Editor of now-defunct The Bangladesh Times, Raquib Siddiqui is a veteran journalist with specialisation in aviation and tourism)
-By Raquib Siddiqi