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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 May 2006, 15:35 GMT 16:35 UK
Bangladesh Biman hits the buffers
By Alastair Lawson
BBC News

Biman flight
Passengers often stay "home in the sky" for longer than expected
To passengers on board Biman Bangladesh Flight 001 from Dhaka to New York, the airline's catch-phrase "Your Home in the Sky" had more than a ring of truth.

Passengers were forced to accept airline hospitality for longer than expected earlier this week when it was refused permission to land in the US.

The plane was diverted to Canada after US authorities were reported to be concerned about its mechanical flaws.

Biman now says that the US authorities have apologised over the incident.

But that cannot overshadow the fact that the Bangladesh national carrier has recently encountered numerous setbacks.

On Tuesday the cash-strapped airline announced that it may suspend long-haul flights to Europe, America and parts of Asia in an effort to reduce heavy losses.

Bloated numbers

Services to New York will be cancelled and flights to Tokyo, Paris, Frankfurt, Bangkok and Singapore may be affected.

Biman's erratic passenger schedule, the poor state of its 13 dwindling and elderly aircraft, its bloated staff numbers and its failure to pay fuel bills have all given the impression that it has hit severe turbulence.

Biman flight
The government is reluctant to let Biman operate independently

Analysts say that years of rampant corruption and incompetent management have led to fears that the airline's future is by no means secure.

"We are suffering a loss of $80,000 on each flight to New York because of operating old DC-10 aircraft," says Aviation Minister Fakhrul Islam Alamgir.

"We urgently need to replace the fleet, but we don't have the funds to do so."

The minister is no doubt well aware that there is barely a single case of aircraft-leasing by Biman in recent years that has not been accompanied by allegations of corruption - with government appointed middlemen usually named as the beneficiaries.

The airline's woes have been pinned by many observers on the government's reluctance to relinquish control of Biman and allow it to stand on its own feet.

'Rolling in wealth'

The loss-making flight from Dhaka to the US was only reported to have survived in recent years because Prime Minister Khaleda Zia insisted in 2004 that it be kept going in the interests of the country's "national prestige".

"Biman has always remained an appendage of the Civil Aviation ministry," says an editorial in the Bangladesh newspaper, The News Today, "with too many people competing to get their fingers in the pie.

Officials say it will incur huge losses in the next financial year
Five of its 13 aircraft are at least 20 years old
It owes millions of dollars to Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation
It faces spiralling costs in aircraft maintenance and fuel prices
A DC-10 and a Fokker F-28 were written off in recent accidents

"The management structure has always been mediocre, with former Air Force personnel monopolising the chief executive's post.

"It is almost impossible to find a single senior Biman employee, from cabin crew to middle management, who is not rolling in wealth."

The price of these failures is clear to see: hundreds of passengers suffering daily delays - usually between six to 24 hours - and many requiring food and accommodation.

One report estimated that Biman pays every passenger it transports an average of $20 in compensation for delays.

The government insists it is working to make Biman more efficient and claw back loses which approached $42m last year.

It says that it is trying to find a "strategic partner" to improve the airline's fortunes.

But it said the same thing five years ago - and true to form - more delays are expected.

Plane crashes in north Bangladesh
08 Oct 04 |  South Asia
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26 Jan 04 |  South Asia
Stranded pilgrims fly out of Dhaka
07 Feb 02 |  South Asia

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