Special flights for expatriate Bangladeshis face initial hiccups

FE REPORT | Sunday, 18 April 2021

The Saudi authorities have finally given landing permission to the Biman Bangladesh Airlines for operating its flights to Riyadh and Dammam, a Biman official said on Saturday.

Besides, the airlines will resume operation of two scheduled flights to Dubai and one to Abu Dhabi today (Sunday).

"We got the landing permission for the flight scheduled to depart at 3:00 am on Sunday. Our flight to Jeddah has already departed at 6:00 pm today (Saturday) with 265 passengers on board," deputy general manager of Biman Tahera Khondoker told the FE.

"We have also sent some passengers of Riyadh in the Jeddah-bound flight as they could not travel in their scheduled flight at 6:15 am on today (Saturday) as the flight was cancelled due to cancellation of landing permission by the Saudi Authorities," she said.

Earlier in the morning, over 300 Saudi Arabia-bound migrant workers demonstrated at the Hazrat Shahjalal International

Airport (HSIA) due to cancellation of the Biman's first special flight scheduled to depart at 6:15 am for Riyadh.

All the passengers arrived at the HSIA six hours before the departure time as per instruction of the Biman authorities amid countrywide lockdown.

The Biman authorities informed them at around 2:00 am on Saturday that the flight was cancelled as the Saudi authorities suspended the slot at the last moment.

In the afternoon, the foreign secretary, expatriate welfare secretary, civil aviation and tourism secretary, civil aviation authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) chairman and Biman managing director held an emergency meeting and briefed the media as well as the agitating migrant workers at the airport.

Asked why Biman announced a flight schedule before getting permission, Biman MD Abu Saleh Mostafa Kamal said they have the official documents that they had sent an e-mail to the Saudi authorities as soon as the Bangladesh government took a decision on April 15 to operate special flights.

He said they also gave the slot to operate the special flights. The slot was allotted for the scheduled flights which were later converted to special status, he added.

"We still have the permission to operate flight at 6:00 pm. But they cancelled the landing permission of the early morning flight of 6:16 am and the flight scheduled to depart at 3:00 am on Sunday," he said.

US-Bangla Airlines general manager (marketing and public relations) Kamrul Islam told the FE that they suspended the flight to Muscat scheduled to depart at 9:45 pm due to underload - only 23 passengers.

But their Dubai-bound flight scheduled at 6:12 pm departed with 103 passengers.

Outbound migrant workers had to face immense sufferings due to cancellation of the flights on Saturday.

However, an inter-ministerial meeting on Thursday last decided that airlines, including Biman Bangladesh Airlines, will operate about 100 special flights to Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Singapore in a week from April 17 to carry workers to their job places abroad.

According to the decisions made at the inter-ministerial meeting, the workers who were scheduled for going abroad during the three-day period (April 14 to April 16) will be prioritised.

Jubair Ahmed, a worker, said that so far he spent Tk 23,000 to meet travel and accommodation costs.

He came to Dhaka from Sylhet two days before by a private car spending Tk 15,000. Besides, he paid Tk 3,000 for Covid test.

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