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Wed, May 17, 2006

US Says Biman Landing Ban Was A 'Mistake'

But Diverted Flight May Be Least Of Carrier's Woes

It was all a mistake... that's what the US State Department reportedly told the national airline of Bangladesh, Biman, on Tuesday, after a weekend incident where one of the carrier's planes was barred from landing at New York's JFK International Airport. But an apology might not be good enough for the beleaguered carrier.

As Aero-News reported, the flight from Dhaka was forced to divert to Montreal Saturday morning after the FAA refused it entry into US airspace, citing unspecified safety concerns.

That "was a mistake," said an unnamed director of the State Department's bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, according to The Daily Star in Bangladesh.

The BBC, however, reports the diverted flight -- which Biman will reportedly seek monetary compensation from the FAA for -- may be the least of the carrier's problems, as the cash-strapped airline faces problems brought about by, among other things, an aging fleet of aircraft and its failure to pay its fuel bills.

In an effort to curb its losses, Biman reported Tuesday it may suspend long-haul flights to Europe, America, and Asia.

"We are suffering a loss of $80,000 on each flight to New York because of operating old DC-10 aircraft," says Aviation Minister Fakhrul Islam Alamgir on Biman's situation. "We urgently need to replace the fleet, but we don't have the funds to do so."

In fact, the US haul flight may have only survived this long due to the efforts of the Bangladeshi government, which reportedly viewed the loss-making flight from Dhaka to the US as a symbol of "national prestige".

"Biman has always remained an appendage of the Civil Aviation ministry," says an editorial in the Bangladesh newspaper, The News Today, "with too many people competing to get their fingers in the pie."

Another possible factor in Biman's decline? Old-fashioned graft and corruption.

"[Biman's] management structure has always been mediocre, with former Air Force personnel monopolizing the chief executive's post. It is almost impossible to find a single senior Biman employee, from cabin crew to middle management, who is not rolling in wealth," according to the editorial.

The government says it is working to make Biman (which greets visitors to its English-language website with the awkwardly-translated "welcome to a world of homely travel experience") a more-efficient operation.

FMI: www.bimanair.com

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