The 24-hour Shahjalal International Airport becomes a 15-hour airport for five months from today, as its only runway gets a fresh coat of tarmac.
Airlines and passengers fear delays and chaos as the airport would have to handle around 185 flights, including 90 international flights, and around 15,000 passengers a day within that 15-hour window.
They worry that since the airport may not have the capability to handle such a rush, things could get worse in case of inclement weather, notably fog which is quite usual during the winter.
The runway will remain closed from 11:00pm to 8:00am every day.
The airport used to handle 33 flights and 5,700 passengers, more than a third of the daily passengers in all, during the nine hours. The airlines that had flights during that time have already rescheduled their flights.
However, passengers on a Dhaka-bound flight that misses the window to land could see themselves in Chittagong Shah Amanat International Airport, which has poor infrastructure compared to Shahjalal International Airport. It does not even have catering services for airliners.
Sources said airlines fear that passengers may have to endure sufferings as the rush might cause long queues at check-in desks, immigration desks and customs at the Dhaka airport, which deals with 80 percent of the country's air traffic.
“It took me around two hours to get out of the airport today. I do not know what will happen when there will be more rush,” Mohammad Harun, who arrived from Saudi Arabia yesterday, told The Daily Star at the airport.
Since all the flights would be arriving and departing between 8:00am and 11:00pm, passengers to and from the airport would also have to face the notorious Dhaka traffic, some during the rush hours.
Traffic to and from the airport also gets bogged down at Banani and Biswa Road intersection where flyovers are being built.
A political procession or a rally in the capital could make the situation even worse.
Apparently not having much faith on its ability to handle the rush of passengers and considering the traffic situation, Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (Caab) has urged airlines to ask their passengers to arrive at the airport five hours before their flights.
However, SM Nazmul Anam, director, flight safety and regulations of Caab, recently said they have held a series of meetings with all concerned and asked them to take necessary steps for smooth operation of the airport.
Officials of ground handling section, immigration and customs of the airport said they have taken measures like deploying more people in the day shift to handle the rush.
A top ground handling section official of Biman said they would deploy 80 percent of their total workforce during those 15 hours. The official also said they have already purchased some additional equipment for this as well.
The official said they would be opening a control room soon to monitor the situation at the airport.
Special Superintendent (immigration) of Special Branch AZM Nafiul Islam said they would too reinforce day shifts pulling immigrations officials out of night shifts.
He said they purchased 11 computers in addition to their existing 79 for smooth operation.
Additional Commissioner Anwar Hossain of Customs said they too would be rearranging their manpower deployment as per the new schedules of airlines.
However, Caab did not tell Dhaka Metropolitan Police about excess traffic it would have to handle on Airport Road.
Deputy Commissioner (traffic) Ruhul Amin of north division of Dhaka Metropolitan Police said Caab had not informed them about the matter. He, however, said if necessary they would deploy more traffic police and try to make the road to the airport congestion free.
Interestingly, SM Nazmul Anam, director of Caab, said they did not inform the traffic department because “we are not bothered about it”.
An official of Kuwait Airways, wishing anonymity, said due to the schedule change they would make a loss of around $200 per passenger as they would be keeping them in hotels. The official said they took the safe route or else passengers could miss their connecting flights from hub airports.
Airlines officials said ground handling would be a major challenge as the section with insufficient logistics and manpower would have to handle all 185 flights of around 31 airlines in that 15 hours.
Many of the planes arriving have to be turned around as well, which includes passenger and luggage unloading, refuelling, replenishing the pantry, and passenger and luggage loading.
Meanwhile, Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister Faruk Khan said although they had given five months to construction company Abdul Monem Ltd to resurface the runway, the company assured them of completing the work much earlier.
He said they would give additional incentive to the company if it could do the job sooner.
Asked how early, he said he was not willing to disclose it.
Aviation analyst and the Editor of The Bangladesh Monitor Kazi Wahidul Alam said such resurfacing of the runway was mandatory and every airport in the world does it but they never take such a long time to do it.
Vice-Chancellor Prof Jamilur Reza Choudhury of University of Asia Pacific and an expert, however, differs.
Prof Jamilur, who was involved in the runway resurfacing project in 1996, said considering the airport has only one runway and that it would be closed for nine hours a day, five months was the minimum time required to give it a fresh tarmac coat.
Abdul Monem Ltd was awarded the Tk 187 crore asphalt-concrete overlay work on the 10,500-foot-long runway to make it sturdier enough to handle larger aircraft. The work was scheduled to continue until April 30, 2013.
The work was schedule to start from November 1 but it was delayed by a month for smooth operation of hajj flights.
The last time the runway got a new asphalt surface was in 1996. It developed several cracks as the lifetime of surface expired six years ago, Caab officials said.