Aiming to facilitate smooth transportation for Hajj pilgrims, Biman Bangladesh Airlines has started carrying them on its regular flights.
The authorities of the national flag carrier have decided that it will not cancel Hajj flights since it will lose a slot (landing permission) in Saudi Arabia if any flight is cancelled.
The move is meant to avert uncertainty in carrying pilgrims to Saudia Arabia, Biman sources said.
In some cases, airlines authorities are delaying flights by a maximum of two hours, instead of cancelling them.
The development came after Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister Rashed Khan Menon on Thursday declared all Saudi Arabia-bound flights as Hajj flights to help sort out the slot cancellation issue.
In the wake of the government move, the civil aviation ministry and Biman authorities started transporting Hajj pilgrims on regular flights of the national flag career from Friday.
Two days before the announcement, Menon had said that over 40,000 pilgrims may not perform Hajj this year owing to visa processing problems.
Meanwhile, the national flag carrier, which was given 144 slots to carry 63,599 pilgrims to Saudi Arabia, has already cancelled 16 flights as they failed to get the stipulated Hajj pilgrims on board in time.
With the aim of overcoming this crisis, the airlines has requested more slots, which they hoped would be approved next week.
This year, problems arose as the Saudi Arabian government imposed 2,000 Riyals (Tk44,000) as additional fees on repeat pilgrims (who performed Hajj in 2015 and 2016).
Moreover, the country also hiked Moallem (Hajj guide) fees at the last moment, creating further financial difficulties for Hajj pilgrims.
Sources said Saudi Arabia has increased the Hajj guide fees for separate categories this year. The fee for Category C Moallems has been raised to 700 Saudi Riyals, up from 600 Saudi Riyals in 2016.
However, the Category C quota has already been booked, primarily by Indians and Pakistanis, causing Bangladeshi pilgrims to go for Category B Moallems, who charge 1,500 Saudi Riyals.
This year, 127,000 pilgrims are set to go to Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj. Biman is in the process of carrying 63,500 of the pilgrims, while the rest are travelling by Saudi Arabian Airlines.
Hajj Agencies’ Association of Bangladesh Secretary General Shahadat Hossain Taslim said 68,000 Saudi visas had been issued until on Saturday.
“The processing of visas has gained momentum in the last few days, which will surely remove the uncertainity regarding Hajj pilgrimage that has been growing since last week,” he said.