Biman Bangladesh Wants to Return to Previously Unprofitable New York Route

Bangladesh’s flag carrier and the country’s biggest airline, Biman Bangladesh, is planning to launch flights to New York following yesterday’s inaugural Manchester to Dhaka and Sylhet route.

Biman Bangladesh returned to Manchester Airport on January 5 after suspending the route back in 2012 due to a shortage of aircraft. Photo by Adam Nadeem.

Biman Bangladesh is one of Asia’s smaller airlines and has struggled to expand its long-haul network due to heavy competition from Middle Eastern rivals as well as a lack of funds and aircraft.

The airline is reportedly looking at services to New York via Manchester. The new route would be serviced by a Boeing 787 and the carrier is ‘hopeful’ that the flights will be successful. The airline is aware however, that profits on the route would be slim.

While New York is a popular destination, it is also an expensive feat for a small airline in Asia. Indeed, Biman Bangladesh had launched a route to New York’s JFK International Airport back in 1993 via Brussels.

Eventually the airline was financially unable to continue flying through Brussels and in an attempt to cut its losses on the flight, replaced it with a stopover Manchester in the UK instead, effective April 2006. The carrier also decided to cut frequencies on the route down to just one weekly flight.

Still common with airlines today, Biman Bangladesh continued loss-making operations on the route in order to retain its precious slot at New York JFK. As mentioned, this is still common today, particularly at airports with limited slots like London Heathrow and of course, New York JFK.

Biman Bangladesh operates regular flights to London Heathrow. Photo by Karam Sodhi │ AeroNewsX.

In a likely disappointing development for Biman, the carrier was forced to revert back to Brussels as a stopover after the FAA announced Bangladesh’s airlines do not meet international safety standards.

As it was placed under Catagory 2 on the agency’s International Aviation Safety Assessment Program, the carrier was still able to fly to New York, however it had no right to change its stopover from Brussels to Manchester. As a result, the airline was fined adding to its already heavy losses on the New York route.

Back in 2006, Bangladesh’s Aviation Minister, Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said: "We are suffering a loss of $80,000 on each flight to New York because of operating old DC-10 aircraft.”

Per the BBC, 2006 was a very tough year for Biman Bangladesh. As a result of Biman’s ever-ageing fleet of 13 aircraft (which included Douglas DC-10s even in 2006), “bloated” staff numbers and struggling financial condition, services to Tokyo, Paris, Frankfurt, Bangkok and Singapore were all at risk.

The airline could no longer cope with the financial implications and cut New York from the network despite it being necessary to keep the “national prestige” according to Prime Minister Khaleda Zia. The services ended that year.

Now, it seems things are looking good for Biman. Indeed, in 2006 the airline was struggling to operate. It’s financial situation continued to deteriorate and the possibility to purchase new aircraft grew further and further away. However, the carrier has improved significantly with a brand new fleet of aircraft, major expansion plans and a focus on both profits and, especially compared to previous years, passenger experience; a very positive transformation.

Biman Bangladesh's 787s are a positive development for the airline. Photo by Anselm Ranta │ AeroNewsX.

During a press conference celebrating its 49th anniversary, the carrier said it was currently trying to arrange for US Aviation Authorities to come to Bangladesh and evaluate the possibility of the new services from Dhaka’s International Airport.

This is no doubt an exciting development for Biman Bangladesh. What we don’t know, is whether the carrier will be able to operate the service without denting its financial numbers negatively. We can only hope that it’s new fleet, better service and relatively strong financial condition will be enough to make an adequate amount of return.

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