A report on the subject was published in a local English daily on 25 February stating that Biman may go for Boeing's offer for aircraft, which may help the ailing airlines to come out of miseries.
However, the induction of these new and better aircraft from Boeing may solve only a part of the problem. It may help to avoid the sudden unexpected delays and random schedule upsets that have given Biman the bad name. However, this is not the only problem of our really sick airlines! Another issue which has often been reported in the press, and is known to many disappointed passengers, is the usual report from Biman that the flight is full, while the flight leaves practically empty!
One reason for this could be that travel agents block a good number of seats, and very often cancel it at the last minute as allowed without incurring penalty. Biman authorities can list out such defaulting agents, say for the last two or three years, and de-list them and inform all other airlines and travel agents, and publish their names and addresses. This will hopefully stop this unholy practice.
Next in importance is to trim down the large numbers of practically free travellers, who milk the Biman no end! These are various Biman employees, their families; also officials of DG, Civil Aviation, and the ministry concerned. This facility needs to be drastically restricted. Only Biman officials availing at least two weeks (15 days) continuous earned leave may be permitted to travel at concession rates with only two minor children below twelve years old. They will be allowed concession rates of at least twenty percent of the published fare plus all taxes on fixed dated return tickets purchased at least fifteen dates prior to departure. These tickets should be non-refundable and non transferable for both up and down legs of the journey, and no open-dated ticket coupon for any sector should be issued. These tickets if cancelled or flight dates changed must pay the full normal fare difference: or the amounts involved can be deducted from the employee's salary. The frequency of such travel should be limited to on-line routes only, allowable once a year for overseas destination and maybe twice a year for domestic destinations.
The aircraft selection committee should have one or two technically qualified persons, not necessarily from the air force. Military aircrafts are special types, attuned to manoeuvrability and speed, and is generally poor on overall thermal efficiency, as explained to us by Rolls Royce trainers when their Dart Turboprop Engine was introduced in PIA way back in the early 60s. The undersigned attended it at the PIA Engine Overhaul Shop in Karachi. Such members with hands on electro-mechanical equipment experience, can appreciate the technical, economic and cost-benefit breakeven load factors for comparable aircraft and engines.
It is indeed commendable that the government has decided to free the Biman management from the clutches of bureaucrats, who have little or no knowledge of managing a commercial enterprise, nor can they devote the required time to it.
To my view, just making it a PLC and having a few members of the board from the private sector is not enough. Without being prejudiced and with due respect, it's not even enough to replace some civilian bureaucrats in the board of directors. It needs a total shake-up and restructuring and even the chairman & most members of the board should be picked up from the entrepreneurs, experts in the industry and those who really have successful track records of management.
British Airways may be taken as an example. It faced a similar situation back in the late seventies. It was Margaret Thatcher's bold and drastic measures that made many British industries, including British Airways, successful. Cosmetic surgery cannot cure an almost terminal cancer.
Public funds must not be wasted any more. There is enough private capital available in and outside the country to finance big projects. So please be bold, devoted and engage dedicated people with total commitment. They will certainly bring positive and desired results.
Biman has tremendous potential. Tell me how many airlines in the world have so many captive customers who would only prefer to travel by Biman. It can be made a real national pride and of course profitable, but it needs proper action and direction. There must be short, medium and long term solid plans and their proper execution. Just buying 8 or 12 aircrafts would not do. It must be part of a total plan and strategy.
M. Alam, Dhaka