Biman Bangladesh Airlines has been forced to ground two long haul aircraft leased from EgyptAir at a cost of Tk200 crore, in another case of mismanagement at the national carrier.
The two Boeing 777 200 ER planes were leased for five years but one of them has now been grounded for five months because of engine failure, while the another is fully non-operational.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of the United States of America warned Biman to replace its aging DC-10s by December 2005 or be refused entry to US airspace.
The FAA made good on the warning the following year, cancelling all incoming flights from Biman after officially grading it a category-2 carrier, meaning it did not meet the required safety standards.
Since EgyptAir falls under FAA category-1, Biman authorities decided to lease the two aircraft in 2014 in order to resume services on the Dhaka-New York route.
A Biman engineer said that soon after they were leased, the two aircraft were grounded at least 25 times including twice at Frankfurt in Germany because of engine failure.
“Biman authorities did not consider the national interest when they signed the lease,” a Biman official said, requesting anonymity.
“When they went to Egypt to inspect the aircraft, the two planes were not in the best of conditions. A private airline had also flown to Egypt for the same reason but returned without leasing them as they realised it would not be a good investment.”
The official said Biman authorities decided to lease the aircraft knowing fully well they were close to being non-operational.
“Why they decided to go ahead with the agreement is beyond comprehension,” he said.
Sources at Biman said the planes began to fall apart soon after arriving in Dhaka in 2014. Within a year, both the engines on the Boeings stopped working and so to fix this, Biman leased engines from another company for Tk13 lakh daily, but these also stopped working.
Biman has been losing Tk1 crore every day on the EgyptAir planes but it cannot recover the cost as they will most likely remain grounded until the lease expires in February 2019, according to a Biman source.
The lease costs Biman Tk5 crore monthly and stipulates that Biman must return the aircraft to EgyptAir in the same condition in which they were leased. Any and all maintenance cost are to be borne by Biman.
“At this point these planes are not serviceable at all, but because Biman cannot return the planes before the lease expires as it will cost us several crores just to repair them back to the same functionality in which they were given to us,” said a mid-level Biman officer, requesting anonymity.
The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) is also investigating this case of mismanagement.
“Syed Iqbal Hossain, a director of ACC visited the Biman headquarters to figure out the motive behind leasing non-operational planes for five years,” said the Biman official.
General Manager (PR) of Biman Shakil Meraj told the Dhaka Tribune that the engine of the leased aircraft has been repaired by the leasing company and they are also in the process of repairing the rest of the aircraft.
He said they were hopeful that the planes would be operational by July this year.