Biman Bangladesh Airlines has incurred losses of over Tk70 crore since the UK imposed a temporary ban on direct air cargo flights from Dhaka to London in March 2016, and the situation for the national carrier could worsen after the EU threatened to follow Australia and Germany in introducing similar punitive measures.
Although the EU has not yet followed suit, it put Bangladesh on the list of high-risk countries from June 1, reducing the cargo flights from Dhaka to European destinations to one-third of previous levels.
The bloc has also issued a threat that if double screening of goods is not performed and an explosive detection system (EDS) is not introduced, Bangladesh will also face a ban to all remaining EU destinations.
“We don’t have any double-screening machine (so) to meet the EU requirement, we need to install the machine as early as possible,” said Shakil Meraj, Biman general manager and spokesman.
Bangladesh has already installed Explosive Trace Detector (ETD) machines as per the UK demand, but these can detect only explosive goods and take around 4-5 minutes to scan each item.
EDS machines are believed to be more effective for scanning cargo goods and quicker, taking only one minute per item.
On Monday, the EU Ambassador in Bangladesh, Pierre Mayaudon, asked to the authorities to install EDS machines to ensure the security of cargo flights.
Civil Aviation Minister Rashed Khan Menon told the Dhaka Tribune that the government was serious about the issue and will buy two more EDS machines from Japan to reach the country in July.
“After that, the problem will be solved. In the meantime, the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (Caab) will use trained dogs in checking cargo goods,” he said.
Caab has deployed dog squads to begin screening goods at the cargo complex of Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka to beef up security with the help of Rapid Action Battalion, Police and Border Guard Bangladesh members.
“Caab is responsible for overall security at the Shahjalal airport (so) Biman will follow whatever directives Caab made,” said Shakil Meraj.
Following the UK cargo ban, Caab appointed the British-based Redline Assured Security to resolve the issues immediately, for a fee of Tk80 crore. According to the UK report, Dhaka airport security measures were ineffective in body searches and lax in screening of passengers, staff, cabin crew, CIPs and VIPs.
Redline has trained 100 Caab employees to help improve the overall security at the country’s main airport and handed over the boarding gates responsibility to a Caab team. After the training, Caab authorities strictly ordered its employees to show no lenience toward any cabin crew, CIP or VIP.
As per the deal, Redline was supposed to complete all the works and training within a year. But it has failed to complete on time and a Caab official, requesting anonymity, said the company is now denying any responsibility for the matter.
“It’s unfortunate that the appointed company has failed to complete the task on time,” said Kazi Wahidul Alam, an aviation expert and former Biman board member.
“The EU’s recent decision will not only hamper our cargo business but will damage our image overseas. We should take proper initiatives for the sake of our own interest,” he said.