Biman Bangladesh Airlines at a press conference on Wednesday expressed fear that the situation of ferrying pilgrims to Saudi Arab would deteriorate further as the national flag carrier still lagged behind in sending 10,000 pilgrims on the 17th day of its operations on Wednesday.
‘We have so far cancelled 19 flights [as of Wednesday] due to shortage of passengers. We are supposed to send 33,000 pilgrims by this time but we ferried only 24,115… We are not clear about coming days but we are trying to resolve the crisis before it goes beyond our control,’ Biman’s managing director and chief executive officer AM Mosaddique Ahmed told reporters at Balaka Bhaban.
He was unwilling to blame anyone for the ongoing crisis but pointed out that the crisis began as many people failed to rent house in Saudi Arab in stipulated time.
Mosaddique Ahmed said that despite their all efforts, they were not getting passengers on time.
‘In many cases, we are sending a flight with 310 passengers against the capacity of 419 passengers on the dedicated flight due to shortage of passengers,’ he said, adding ‘there are 12 flights until August 12, but we are not sure about the fate of three flights.’
Due to huge capacity loss, Biman will suffer Tk 40 crore loss this season.
‘We are not here to create any panicky situation, rather we want to clear our position and are seeking coordination among the authorities concerned,’ said Mosaddique, flanked by some senior officials of Biman.
He said the Saudi civil aviation authorities allocated 14 additional slots for Bangladesh Biman. ‘ But we can use only half of them and will look for further allocation considering our
schedule. The problem is that 18 hours are required for any carrier to transport passengers to Saudi Arabia—coming to Dhaka and returning to Saudi Arabia with other passengers.’
Biman spokesperson Shakil Meraj said among the 19 flights, two were cancelled on Wednesday due to lack of passengers. The flight BG-5045 was scheduled to leave Dhaka at 5:00am while BG-3053 flight was scheduled to fly by Wednesday afternoon.
Officials said sudden decisions taken by the Saudi authorities to increase Hajj service charges and to impose additional 2,000 Saudi riyals on each pilgrims who performed Hajj in the past two years left pilgrims in trouble.
Poor Hajj management by the government and Hajj service operators’ intention to maximize profit put several thousand pilgrims in trouble as flights for over 6,000 pilgrims needed to be rescheduled.
The religious affairs ministry blamed Hajj service providers, Hajj Agencies Association of Bangladesh, while the service providers blamed sudden hike in Hajj service fees in Saudi Arabia and additional charge on the repeat pilgrims within two years for the situation.
On July 31, religious affairs secretary Abdul Jalil sent a letter to Saudi authorities alleging that neither Bangladesh government nor its embassy in Saudi had received any formal instruction from Saudi Arabia why additional 2,000 riyals would be charged for the repeat pilgrims.
The government fixed this year’s minimum Hajj package at Tk 3,19,355 for each pilgrim but many of them are travelling with cheap offer from privately run hajj agencies causing troubles.
This year, 1,27,198 Bangladeshis are expected to perform Hajj. Biman and Saudia would carry half of the pilgrims each.
Until Wednesday morning, the two carriers ferried 50,217 Bangladeshi pilgrims to Saudi Arabia.
Saudia only cancelled four scheduled flights so far.
News Courtesy: www.newagebd.net