Vol. 5 Num 697 Tue. May 16, 2006  
Front Page

CAAB warned of poor aircraft maintenance
Biman says US authorities violated int'l aviation rules

US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has repeatedly warned the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) about poor engineering condition of Biman's DC-10 aircraft that was barred from landing in New York but the Biman authorities say they did not get any such warnings.

Biman says the FAA has violated international civil aviation rules through its abrupt action, which is an insult to the national flag carrier.

CAAB sources said the FAA has been warning CAAB and Biman about poor engineering health of the DC-10 aircraft for a long time. The aircraft is a victim of very poor maintenance by Biman's engineering department having almost half of its 5,000-stong manpower.

According to Biman sources, the engineering department is suffering because of bad procurements and poor planning.

"All the aircraft spares are procured on the basis of Aircraft on Ground, which is on emergency basis. This is done as per wishes of the spares supplier and maintenance contractor, who is related to the prime minister's family. As a result, prices of the spares are three to four times the market prices, and Biman always lacks spares," said one source.

But the Biman chief says the DC- 10 aircraft did not have gross flaws.

"In fact, this aircraft was okayed for landing in New York (as per last communiqué between the FAA and Biman)," says MA Momen, managing director of Biman. "If the aircraft was not good for flying, it would not have been allowed to fly to New York from the Brussels airport."

As the FAA did not allow the Biman aircraft to land in New York, the flight was diverted to Montreal on May 13 along with its passengers. The aircraft was inspected by the Canadian authorities and found okay, he said.

"I apologise to the passengers for the immense suffering they had to face. We have arranged their flights to New York. And we have also arranged alternative flights for some 60 Biman passengers from New York," Momen added.

CAAB sources said the FAA sent a long list of flaws in the DC-10, which have not been addressed.

"Of course when (FAA) inspectors inspect the aircraft, they make lists of flaws and we correct those flaws accordingly. On December 14, 2005, the aircraft was cleared by the FAA. After routine inspections, they had given us a list of flaws in February. We corrected those. It is not unusual for any old aircraft to have some flaws."

Biman did not get any FAA notification disapproving the DC-10 landing in New York.

While this incident is an insult to the nation, it is not affecting the Biman financially. In fact, it is a blessing in disguise for Biman, which was incurring losses of up to Tk 55 lakh per flight on the New York route.

"We will close the New York office. May be, we will run an off-flight ticket centre there as in Toronto," Momen said.

"Now that this flight is off from the New York route, we will get more flying time. This flight can be operated on the profitable Middle East routes where we cannot provide higher frequency of flights due to lack of aircraft."

The Biman authorities and the FAA have had another conflict recently over a newly added Biman flight to New York from Manchester. Biman is a class-B operator in the world's aviation sector. A class-B operator is not allowed to operate from a third country. But before the launching of Manchester-New York flight, Biman was not aware of this regulation. When it ran three to four flights, the FAA imposed a huge penalty on it, and the route had to be cancelled.

Meanwhile, State Minister for Civil Aviation and Tourism Fakrul Islam Alamgir told BSS that Biman's DC-10 fleet would be phased out and replaced by Airbuses or Boeings either on dry lease or wet lease.

A study by the Boeing company and a set of recommendations of Biman suggest modernising its fleet with four wide-body Boeing aircraft and six Airbuses. Biman has been advised to temporarily discontinue non-profitable routes like Dhaka-Frankfurt, Dhaka-Paris, Bangkok-Singapore and Dhaka-Narita.

Fakrul Islam said to improve its health, Biman is considering a strategic partnership with a reputed airliner. Discussion is on with Gulf Air, Emirates and Thai Airways. "After getting their formal offers, we would place those before the appropriate forum of the government for a decision," he added.