Privately owned airlines are continuing their attack on state-owned Biman Bangladesh, with yet another new entrant taking flight and the existing private players adding widebody aircraft for new international services.
Bangladesh now has four airlines operating scheduled services, the newest being Best Air which launched domestic flights in January. The new airline was established by helicopter operator and freight carrier Best Aviation. It started with Boeing 737-200 flights between Dhaka and Chittagong and plans to add more domestic services and eventually international flights.
Bangladesh's market has undergone major change in recent years, and this has given state-owned Biman much pain. GMG Airlines is now firmly established as the main privately owned airline operating turboprops and jets while last year another, United Airways Bangladesh, started operating domestic services using turboprops.
GMG in particular is badly impacting Biman and it has been progressively growing its international operations, having last year added Boeing MD-82s for services to destinations in India, Thailand, Malaysia and Nepal. It recently agreed to wet-lease two Boeing 747-300s from Air Atlanta Icelandic and has used the first to launch services to Dubai.
United Airways is also preparing to launch international services. It recently agreed to lease an Airbus A310 for possible services to Europe via the Middle East
Biman, which has been trying to restructure its operations in the face of the aggressive new competition, is meanwhile seeking to wet-lease a 747 for services to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. It currently uses ageing A310s and DC-10s on international routes and says it is losing market share because it needs aircraft with greater capacity.
Although it remains wholly government owned, Biman has been fighting for more independence to enable it to carry out major change without interference. It eventually hopes to bring in outside investors to allow for a badly needed fleet modernisation and to help with management.
Last year Biman slashed its international network by dropping many loss-making routes, while also dropping most of its domestic operations and leaving them to the emerging private operators. In addition, Biman last year radically reduced the size of its workforce through a voluntary retirement scheme.