The aviation industry of Bangladesh does not have a very long history, but it has contributed significantly to the country’s economy, mainly through creating employment opportunities and taking part in import and export activities. After becoming independent, the first-ever civil flight was operated from Tejgaon Airport on January 1, 1972. Just three days later, Biman Bangladesh Airlines, the pioneer of Bangladesh’s domestic airline industry, was founded. Soon after, many private ventures started exploring their potential in this industry.
Since 1972, thirty-two airlines have attempted to enter the domestic airline industry of Bangladesh. But very few have succeeded in staying and profitably operating here. Currently, there are three scheduled airlines, four cargo airlines, and more than ten charter airlines operating as domestic airlines in Bangladesh. However, today, we will introduce you to the domestic scheduled and cargo airlines of Bangladesh, that are continually contributing to enhancing the country’s potential to the global market.
A scheduled airline operates civilian flights at regular intervals, such as hourly, daily, or even monthly. The routing and departure times are pre-scheduled. It is rare for a scheduled airline to change its standard specifics. Most air travelers use scheduled airlines for domestic and international travel. Currently, there are four scheduled airlines that primarily represent the country’s domestic airline industry. These four airlines operate 45 aircraft in total for passenger flights.
1. Biman Bangladesh Airlines
As we have already mentioned, Biman Bangladesh Airlines is the very first domestic airline in the country. This airline is the national flag carrier of Bangladesh. It was the only domestic airline until 1993. Biman was founded on January 4, 1972, and started operations on February 4 of the same year. Starting with only one DC-3 aircraft, Biman continued to add new planes, including two F-27s and a Boeing 707.
By the end of the eighties, Biman had 18 aircraft in its fleet. Since then, it has continued to upgrade its fleet with new generation aircraft. After many instances of discarding old aircraft and acquiring new ones, now Biman’s fleet size is 21.
At present, Biman offers domestic and international passenger and cargo services. It has 25 flight destinations and air service agreements with 42 countries. The airline offers international flights to countries including India, Nepal, UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, China, Canada, and England. Until 2002, Biman was also been the sole domestic airline permitted by the Government to operate Hajj flights carrying pilgrims from Bangladesh to Jeddah.
Many believe Biman still enjoys a degree of monopoly in the industry, resulting in more than 25 private airlines eventually quitting. With such a competitive advantage, Biman makes a considerable profit of Tk 272 crore in the 2018-19 financial year. However, the newly appointed MD and CEO of Biman, Zahid Hossain, expressed his dissatisfaction with its quality of service. According to him, Biman’s new priority will involve improving service quality and increasing flight frequency. With a massive expansion plan, it targets to make an annual turnover of Tk 9,500 crore.
2. US-Bangla Airlines
US-Bangla Airline, a privately owned domestic airline under the umbrella companies of the US-Bangla Group, was founded in 2010. It was awarded AOC on July 8, 2014, and started operating domestically six days after with two DASH 8-Q400 aircraft. US-Bangla started operating international flights on May 15, 2016, and since then, it has continued to expand by increasing flight frequencies.
In 2017, US-Bangla transported approximately 50% of total passengers in the domestic market. Regarding fleet size, US-Bangla is the largest private airline in Bangladesh. It now has 16 aircraft in its fleet, including a 72-seater ATR 72-600 aircraft. With 20 destinations, the airline operates domestic flights all over the country. It also offers international flights to India, Oman, Thailand, Malaysia, China, Singapore, Qatar, UAE, and the Maldives. In the near future, US-Bangla plans to offer flights to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Indonesia, Italy, and London as well.
While foreign airlines hold 80% of the aviation market in Bangladesh, US-Bangla Airlines planned to add 16 new aircraft to its fleet by the end of 2023. Keeping Biman Bangladesh Airlines as an ally, US-Bangla Airlines announced to work towards claiming a 50% share of the domestic civil aviation market.
Although NOVOAIR was founded in 2007, it did not start operating until 2013 and internationally until 2015. Initially, the airline launched flights for three domestic routes. Now, it has 25 domestic flights every day. Because of its focus on offering better and safer domestic flights, NOVOAIR won Monitor’s “Domestic Airline of the Year” award in 2019.
NOVOAIR started its operation with Embraer 145 jet aircraft. This fleet was later replaced with ATR 72-500 turboprop aircraft. Now the airline has seven aircraft in its fleet. Currently, it offers only one international flight to Kolkata and eight domestic destinations, including Dhaka, Chattogram, Cox’s Bazar, Barishal, Sylhet, Jashore, Rajshahi, and Saidpur. In the future, NOVOAIR plans to offer flights to Riyadh, Dubai, Muscat, Jeddah, Kathmandu, Guwahati, Bangkok, Guangzhou, Singapore, Colombo, and Male.
NOVOAIR is the first airline in the country to introduce a frequent flier program, “SMILES,” including perks such as priority services, tour packages, and special offers. The airline is also well-known as one of the safest domestic airlines operating in the country. In fact, NOVOAIR is the only private airline company in Bangladesh that has the endorsement of both the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). Moreover, during the first year of the pandemic, NOVOAIR offered free tickets to dedicated healthcare professionals.
4. Regent Airways
In 2010, Regent Airways started its journey offering domestic flights. It was owned by HG Aviation Ltd., a subsidiary of Habib Group. Initially, its fleet included two leased Boeing 737-700 aircraft, which Regent had to let go in 2019. Later in 2013, Regent launched its first international flight to Kuala Lumpur.
Until March 2020, Regent Airways used to offer domestic flights to Dhaka, Chattogram, and Cox’s Bazar and international flights to Doha, Kolkata, Singapore, Muscat, and Kuala Lumpur. Moreover, the CEO, Imran Asif, announced adding four Boeing 737-800 aircraft by the end of 2020.
However, Regent stopped operating in March 2020. Later in June 2021, the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) filed a case against Regent Airways for unpaid dues of Tk 283,38 crore. Later in July, CAAB decided to confiscate and auction off Regent’s two aircraft that were parked at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport. As a result, as of 2022, Regent Airways is grounded with no aircraft in its fleet.
To Be Added in 2022
In the last 25 years, approximately eight private airlines declared bankruptcy as the financial adversities often soared for private initiatives in this industry. Moreover, the Coronavirus outbreak left the existing privately owned domestic airlines struggling to stay afloat against all odds. However, there are two other domestic airlines, Air Astra and Fly Dhaka, to start operations in 2022.
- Air Astra
On November 4, 2021, Air Astra received a NOC (No-Objection Certificate) from CAAB. It is also in the process of being issued an AOC (Air Operator Certificate) for commercial launch. The airline was to launch its first flight in January 2022. However, because of the delay in the Air Operator Certification process, it has been postponed. Currently, Air Astra has two ATR 72-600 aircraft in its fleet.
- Fly Dhaka
On October 21, 2021, Fly Dhaka, owned by Shasha Denims Ltd., secured a NOC from CAAB. It is also waiting for its AOC at the moment. In May 2022, the airline company appointed AirAsia, a consulting service specializing in fleet evaluation and planning, network and airline strategy, human resource management, fuel-saving initiatives, and so on.
Fly Dhaka plans to start its journey operating domestic flights and later to expand to international flights. It also plans to operate with a fleet of ATR 72-600 aircraft.
Other than Biman’s cargo subsidiary, Bangladesh has at least five domestic airlines that are solely involved in the transportation of cargo by air. These airlines are significantly contributing to the country’s economy, primarily through European and Middle East cargo-based operations.
1. Bismillah Airlines
Bismillah Airlines is the first international cargo carrier in the country. It was founded in 1997 as a subsidiary of Mollah Group of Industries. The Mollah Group also established Bismillah Flying School in 2009. The airline started operations in 1999 by launching flights to the Dhaka-Bangkok route with a Boeing 707. As of now, the airline has 18 aircraft in its fleet.
Bismillah Airlines also holds a designation from the Bangladesh Government as a freight carrier to operate scheduled flights internationally. It carries cargo to and from 16 destinations, including Shanghai, Dubai, London, Toronto, Delhi, Seoul, Mascot, and many more. The airline carries about 4,000 tonnes of cargo each year domestically. It exported 120,000 tonnes and imported 75,000 goods in 2010.
2. Easy Fly Express
Easy Fly Express started its operations with an HS-748 Cargo Aircraft on July 18, 2008, after being established in 2007. The airline has been involved in “Joint Freighter Flights” internationally with airlines including Etihad, Emirates, Korean Air, China Cargo, and many more. Currently, it has one SAAB 340A freighter in its fleet, operating in both domestic and international routes. In February 2014, Karnaphuli Group took over this cargo airline.
Sky Capital Airlines Ltd., or SkyAir, was founded in 2009, and it started operations on January 26, 2010. The airline is owned by Blue Planet Group. Its fleet includes three aircraft, including two Fokker 27 MK 050 and one Boeing 737-200F. SkyAir is also planning to add a Robinson R66 Helicopter and a Boeing B737-400 to the fleet.
SkyAir is currently operating domestically to destinations including Sylhet, Chittagong, Cox’s Bazar, and Jashore. In the future, the airline expects to operate flights to Guangzhou, Kunming, and other neighboring countries.
4. Hello Airlines
Hello Airlines, owned by IPSSL Group, was founded in 2012 and commenced operations in 2017. Initially, the airline used to operate an ATR 42-300 freighter aircraft. Now its fleet has an ATR 42-300F and an ATR 72-200F. In addition, hello Airlines plans to include another A330-200F in the fleet.
5. NXT AIR
NXT AIR is the newest addition to Bangladesh’s domestic airlines. It is a subsidiary of Hello Airlines Bangladesh, and it received its NOC in December 2021 and AOC in January 2022. It plans to start its operations domestically in 2022 as well. Currently, it has a leased ATR 42-300 and a leased ATR 72-212. NXT AIR plans to add an ATR 72-500 freighter by 2023.
The domestic airline industry of Bangladesh still has a long way to go. The market is primarily dominated by foreign airline companies, where our domestic airlines are struggling to survive. This is especially true for scheduled airlines. Moreover, many private airlines ceased to exist because of complex financial and bureaucratic issues.
However, still many new initiatives are being taken to make the country’s market more favorable for the domestic aviation industry, and we can see several new airlines are set to commence operations soon. The main prime challenge here is reducing foreign airlines’ supremacy in the local market.