National carrier Biman is expected to resume its direct cargo flight to London today around two years after the UK authorities imposed an embargo on carrying freights directly to London from Dhaka.
Biman will carry 18 tonnes of cargo, mainly apparel, in a regular passenger flight -- a development that creates hopes for reduced shipment cost and transit time as well as withdrawal of bans by the European Union, Germany and Australia on direct cargo flights from Dhaka.
“This is going to mark the end of a long wait. We will be able to play a bigger role now in shipping our export items, particularly garments,” said Shakil Meraj, spokesperson for Biman Bangladesh Airlines, at a press conference at its headquarters yesterday.
The announcement came after the UK authorities gave Biman the certification -- ACC3 -- on behalf of the EU on Monday. This certification is an EU prerequisite for airlines carrying cargo into the EU from a non-EU airport.
According to the European Commission website, “Air carriers that fly air cargo or mail into the EU from a non-EU airport are required to comply with the EU ACC3 programme for inbound cargo and mail.”
Biman fulfilled the EU compliance requirement under the ACC3 programme following an audit in February 19-22 this year. Now, there is no restriction on it in carrying cargo directly to London, said the national carrier in a press release yesterday.
The development comes nearly a month after the UK government withdrew the ban on direct cargo flights to London from Dhaka, owing to improvement in safety and security measures for screening export items and training manpower at Dhaka airport.
Despite the lifting of the ban, Biman, also the country's lone air-cargo handler, could not operate direct cargo flights to London as it could not obtain the ACC3 certificate.
Exporters could not reap benefits as the UK-bound cargos originating from Dhaka were rescreened at a third country's airport since March 2016 when the UK ban came into effect.
The rescreening process costs Bangladeshi exporters an additional 10 to 20 cents, depending on the airlines, for shipping each kg of goods, according to exporters.
Mohammed Nasir, vice president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), said, “This is good news. The UK is the third largest destination for our garments after the USA and Germany. We can save much of our time and cost if direct cargo flights are operated between Dhaka and London.”
Bangladesh ships over 200,000 tonnes of export items a year by air. More than 30 airlines, including Biman, carry cargos from Dhaka mainly to the EU countries, including the UK, shows Biman data.
Foreign carriers, especially Middle Eastern airlines such as Emirates and Qatar Airways, carry nearly 80 percent of the export cargos that include garments, fruits, vegetables and leather products.
Following the ban by the UK, Biman's cargo carriage declined to 33,542 tonnes in fiscal 2016-17 from 40,931 tonnes in the previous fiscal year. Its revenue from cargo shipment fell 22 percent year-on-year to Tk 244 crore in fiscal 2016-17, according to Biman.
“Resumption of direct cargo flights will help boost shipment of perishable goods from Dhaka to the UK, and thus allow us to regain market share that was lost to Indian and Pakistani exporters,” said Nurul Amin, director of Bangladesh Freight Forwarders Association.
He hoped the lifting of the ban by the UK would also pave the way for withdrawal of ban by other countries on direct cargo flights from Dhaka.
Australia was the first country to impose the ban on direct cargo flights from Dhaka in December 2015. The UK imposed the ban in March 2016, Germany in June the same year, and the EU in June last year.
Nurul Amin said the resumption of direct cargo flights to London will also help Biman recoup losses. Exporters will no longer need to pay extra as many of them would not require to send cargo through a third country for rescreening.
Md Arif Ullah, general manager of Biman (cargo), said the airline will carry both dry and perishable items.
The carrier has already confirmed advance bookings for shipment of export items through its next two flights, he said.
Kazi Wahidul Alam, editor of aviation journal Bangladesh Monitor, said the country's image was dented due to the ban on air shipment and subsequent requirement of rescreening in a third country before sending freights to the EU.
“But there is no room for complacency,” he said, suggesting that the civil aviation authority and Biman should keep up efforts to improve airport safety, screening and security measures in line with the international standards to avoid such sanctions in future.