Although airlines have been allowed to operate flights on domestic and international routes, some of them were forced to cancel flights while others changed their flight operating schedules due to low turnout of passengers
With a massive drop in passenger traffic in domestic flights due to the Covid-19 pandemic, local airlines have called for lifting restrictions on three airports before the Eid-ul-Azha, especially Cox's Bazar, as air traffic on this route gets a major boost from increased tourist demand during holidays.
Although airlines have been allowed to operate flights on domestic and international routes, some of them were forced to cancel flights, while others changed their flight schedules due to low turnout of passengers.
In such a situation, domestic flight operators called for resuming activities in three major airports so that passengers can easily access tourist cities, hence increasing the number of passengers.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) has already sent a letter to the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) and local district (Cox’s Bazar) Civil Surgeon’s Office to take steps and provide medical facilities for Covid-19 at Cox’s Bazar airport for resuming flights soon.
However, no response has been found in this regard so far.
On March 28, public gatherings at tourist spots, including Cox's Bazar beach, were banned by the government following the Covid-19 outbreak in the country. Cox's Bazar was put under lockdown till June 30 due to a rise in coronavirus infections.
After July 1, businesses at the coastal city have resumed on a limited scale.
Earlier In June, Civil Aviation and Tourism Secretary Mohibul Haque told Dhaka Tribune: “The ministry is working on a policy on how to attract domestic tourists and what the responsibilities of the tourists and hotel-motel authorities will be during and after the pandemic.”
Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation (BPC), the statutory board tasked to promote tourism under the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism, announced non-seasonal discounts in hotels and motels under its control in Cox's Bazar and Kuakata on June 24 to keep the economy of the tourism sector afloat.
Hotel Shaibal, Motel Upal, and Motel Laboni at Cox's Bazar have been offering a 50% discount. Air-conditioned rooms in Tourism Holiday Homes at Kuakata are also offering a 30% discount, while non- air-conditioned rooms come with a 40% discount offer. The offer is effective from July 1 till November 30 in 2020.
According to the Association of Travel Agents of Bangladesh, re-opening the Cox’s Bazar airport will benefit passengers, airlines, and the BPC and create new opportunities for other sectors involved with the tourism industry.
Resuming local airports before Eid
The aviation authority partially resumed domestic flight operations on four domestic routes from June 1 - Dhaka, Chittagong, Sylhet, and Saidpur - while flights to Jessore resumed on June 11.
As Eid-ul-Azha comes near, domestic flight operators have demanded that CAAB ensure health safety facilities at all local airports, including Cox’s Bazar.
“We are ready to operate flights, but we have learnt that the number of medical workers at three domestic airports – Cox’s Bazar, Rajshahi, and Barisal – remain inadequate. This requirement needs to be met quickly by the authorities,” Novoair Managing Director Mofizur Rahman said.
Similarly, US-Bangla General Manager (Public Relations) Kamrul Islam said: “We expect that the number of passengers will increase if activities at three remaining airports are resumed. With Eid in mind, the number of passengers travelling to and from different destinations will increase. US-Bangla is ready to start the flights.”
No help from DGHS yet
Talking to Dhaka Tribune, CAAB Chairman Air Vice Marshal M Mafidur Rahman said: “We are ready to operate flights from the rest of the three airports – Cox’s Bazar, Rajshahi, and Barisal – and we have sent a letter to the DGHS in this regard. However, no support from the DGHS has been received yet.”
CAAB also sent a letter to the local district surgeon seeking medical facilities at Cox’s Bazar Airport.
“But, we also did not find any response from there [Cox’s Bazar civil surgeon],” he added.
He also said the flights will be resumed only after medical facilities were ensured at these airports.
"We have medical facilities from the DGHS in Dhaka, Chittagong, Sylhet, Saidpur, and Jessore airports and therefore, we gave permission to operate flights from there. Only the DGHS can ensure the provision of medical facilities in accordance with WHO [World Health Organizations] regulations," he added.
“If someone falls sick at the airport during the Covid-19 situation, it should not be handled by someone other than medical staff,” the CAAB chief further said.
However, Shahnila Ferdousi, line director of Centre for Disease Control (CDC) at the DGHS, said: “Firstly the Cox's Bazar Airport is not an international airport and the WHO gave directives for ensuring health facilities at the international points of entry in the country. Domestic airports were not mentioned separately in the regulations.
“At this time we cannot fully provide medical facilities for the international points of entry, therefore there is nothing we can do at this moment. However, I have informed the higher authorities about the matter,” said the CDC director.
However, when asked about it, the CAAB chairman pointed out that the 2005 regulations by WHO states that medical facilities at an airport must be ensured by the health authorities of the country concerned. "There is no alternative way," he said.