Bangladesh has taken its first steps towards allowing private carriers to operate international services, with its Cabinet giving "in-principle" approval for cross-border operations.

Private carriers, led by the most successful domestic operator, GMG Airlines, have been seeking international rights for years, but have consistently been blocked by the government, which owns national carrier Biman Bangladesh Airlines.

In mid-2001 GMG won approval for limited international services, but soon had those rights withdrawn after a change in government. The carrier says it now expects to hold talks with the government to find out when full operating approvals may be secured. "We are definitely interested in operating international flights," GMG says. "Now that Cabinet has approved it, the civil aviation authority of Bangladesh will form a committee to evaluate the applications and decide what we can do."

There are many issues still to be addressed, however, because the government has not made it clear which routes private carriers will be able to operate. It is considered likely that private airlines will be barred from operating to the Middle East, which is by far the biggest travel market from Bangladesh, and will be allowed to fly initially only to points not served by the national carrier.

Apart from GMG, at least five other groups that hope to launch airlines have also requested rights to operate international services. Only GMG remains as a scheduled domestic competitor to Biman. It will have to upgrade its Bombardier Dash 8 fleet for international services, and confirms it is "looking at options for larger aircraft such as Airbus and Boeing types".

Source: Flight International