Nicholas Ionides/SINGAPORE

Bangladesh's domestic airline market is set to expand this year with the planned launch of two new commuter carriers.

South Asia Airways is hoping to launch services soon using three ATR 42s leased from the Franco-Italian manufacturer. Backed by Southeast Bank chairman Yussuf Abdullah Harun and headed by former Oman Air and Hunting Cargo Airlines executive George Gilson, South Asia aims to start with domestic passenger services. Dedicated cargo operations and regional operations will follow.

Ayesha Airways is meanwhile seeking to start services using two Saab 340Bs and two Saab 2000s. The carrier is being backed by the ITC Group, which trades electronics, garments, steel, petroleum and other goods. ITC chairman Mahbubur Rahman says initial operating approvals have been secured from the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh and he is confident an August launch target can be met. He adds that a memorandum of understanding has been signed with Saab Aircraft Leasing for the four aircraft, with a final agreement expected shortly.

"We have done a feasibility study and found the aircraft are the right ones," Rahman says. "We are confident there is a good market."

Ayesha intends to operate domestic services to all major Bangladeshi cities as well as regional services to India.

South Asia and Ayesha are seeking to enter a market dominated by national carrier Biman Bangladesh Airlines and private carrier GMG Airlines. GMG has been operating Bombardier Dash 8s since early 1998 and is also hoping to expand into the international arena.

Bangladesh deregulated its industry in the 1990s allowing for the launch in 1995 of Aero Bengal as the country's first private carrier. It was followed in January 1998 by Air Parabat and then GMG, although GMG is the only private carrier still operating scheduled services.

Source: Flight International