Air services in BD in bad shape due to decades of neglect, urgent action to upgrade manpower & equipment a must
_By Raquib Siddiqi
Dhaka : In the present day world, air transportation has assumed great importance as the driver of economic and social progress. In Bangladesh, the importance is yet to be recognised and as such the civil aviation services are still locked in primitive system.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) was created to function as the regulatory body for all aviation related activities in Bangladesh. It is also the aeronautical service provider and is responsible for safe, expeditious and efficient flow of air traffic within the Flight Information Region (FIR) bounded by the international geographic boundary of Bangladesh. This organisation is the custodian of all airfields and allied facilities including air navigation facilities.
Needs up gradation
There is urgent need of up-gradation to keep pace with the global development as the air transportation services in Bangladesh are below par, compared to international standard, due mainly to shortage of proper manpower and equipment.
But lack of understanding of the importance by the Ministry of Civil Aviation and
Tourism (MOCAT) has forced Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) to operate with shortage and improper manpower and equipment.
Among the organisations, which fall in the high-tech area, civil aviation is one of them. As a contracting state of International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), Bangla-desh is obliged to maintain its proficiency as per laid down standards.
International standards requ-ire that Civil Aviation Authorities responsible for safety oversight be provided with necessary resources, both human and financial, to be able to effectively carry out safety oversight obligations. The government is to ensure that the authority is responsible for the safety oversight of the air operations and that it has the resources appropriate to the size and complexity of civil air operation under the jurisdiction of the state.
In Bangladesh, the government is yet to initiate appropriate action to keep pace with the growth and as per the need of the time.
Authority has no 'authority'
The Aivil Aviation Authority was created in 1984 and according to the relevant law; CAAB is responsible for the regulation and control of civil aviation activities in the country and development of infrastructure for the promotion of safe, efficient, adequate, economical and properly coordinated civil air transport service. The law provides that the CAAB shall have control over all the civil airports and aerodromes, as well as air routes and air space in Bangladesh.
In 1983, the Martial Law Committee submitted a report on the organisational set up of the CAAB. ln their report, the Committee made various recommendations on how the management and operation of the CAAB could be more efficient and dynamic. The Committee recommended that to enable the CAAB to function more effectively. The Committee observed that the Department of Civil Aviation is experiencing serious difficulties in matters of induction and retention of manpower which is viewed with concern. ln the opinion of the Committee this is primarily due to the existing pay and emoluments and as such recommends that for retention of the technical and operational manpower, the civil aviation authority should be kept outside the purview of the N.N.S.P, in similar line with Biman Bangladesh Airlines and Bangladesh Shipping Corporation. However, recommendations have not been acted upon.
So, under the situation prevailing for decades, CAAB is working with no authority and MOCAT lack proper understanding. It is hampering the much needed upgradation of manpower and equipment.
The understanding of MOCAT is so poor that it is stubbornly maintaining that highly specilised and technical job like Air Traffic Controller (ATC) is "non-technical".
The neglect resulted in making Bangladesh one of the Significant Safety Concern (SSC) countries in May 2009 by International Civil Aviation Organisaion (ICAO).
The Federal Aviation Administra-tion (FAA) of USA on the other hand made Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport (HSIA), the gateway to Bangladesh by air, was downgraded to Category -2.
After technical review, the FAA team observed that the CAAB lacks an effective system for both the certification and continued surveillance of the operator as established by ICAO. "The issues regarding the CAAB autonomy and the empowerment of its Chairman are significant obstacles in the development of an effective oversight system", the team commented.
It may be noted that an ICAO team conducted inspection of CAAB facilities between June 21 and 27, 2012 in regard to Significant Safety Concern. The outcome of the inspection is being considered as important for the civil aviation of the country.
Disparity between strength & growth
Air travel demand in Bangladesh has experienced healthy growth in the past three decades. The trend of growth both in passenger and cargo is expected to continue in near future with increased industrialisation and economic development.
From just 5, 80,000 passengers in 1972_ the first year after independence, domestic and international air passenger traffic went up to 14, 12000 in 1984-the year of formation of the civil aviation authority--to nearly 3.3 million in 2006, to nearly 4.2 million in 2007, to nearly 4.4 million in 2008, to nearly 4.3 million in 2009 and to nearly 4.7 million in 2010. (Despite several attempts, I failed to get the 2011 traffic figure from relevant CAAB official).
This growth figure shows that from 1984, the passenger traffic has increased by nearly 233 per cent in 2010. Along with volume of passenger traffic, all other traffic and operational activities have also gone up proportionately.
In 1984, there was only one international airport and one national airline in Bangladesh. The number of operating foreign airlines was also only a few. At present, aviation activities are being carried out from 3 international and 5 domestic airports, about 26 airlines are now operating in and out of the country.
In the absence of proper action, The Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) is operating with manpower and equipment, sanctioned nearly three decades ago in 1984, when the work load was considerably far less than what it is now.
The manpower sanctioned in 1984 was about 3,800. This approved number of manpower could not be recruited at a time. They were recruited in phases over the long period of nearly three decades.
It may be mentioned that CAAB can only appoint technical staff with the approval of MOCAT. The authority of appointment of non-technical staff is retained by MOCAT.
The heart of air transportation is the air traffic control and role of air traffic controllers (ATC) are very important in regard to ensuring safety and smooth functioning of air transportation. The job is highly technical and a qualified ATC cannot be produced over night. At present there is not enough ATC in the country to run the operation smoothly. There is shortage and this is resulting in over work for ATCs.
It is interesting to note that MOCAT consider job of ATC non-technical and such retained the authority to appoint them. It is not understood, under what consideration MOCAT is continuing to categorise ATC as non-technical.
After three decades, an effort is now being made to re-organise CAAB to equip itself with enough proper manpower_ skilled and un-skilled_ to meet the current requirements as well as the requirements of the next decade.
In addition to three more Members, the new organo-gram has proposed increase of CAAB manpower to 14,000 from present about 3,800.
At present under the Chairman, the CAAB has four members-Member Operation, Member Administration, Member Planning and Chief Engineer. The proposed three more members would be for-Air Traffic Management, Flight Standard and Regulation and Security.
The new organogram has also proposed formation of a 2,400 member Aviation Security Force (ASF). At present aviation security in the country is under makeshift arrangement, with most of the 1100 persons engaged in the job are employed on daily basis. If all 1100 persons now working are absorbed in the new ASF, 1,300 will be required to be appointed.
It is learnt, of these, 450 will inducted from Air Force on deputation. They will be replaced within 10 years.
According to new organogram, there will be five directors under the Member Security to run the ASF, instead of only about three officers now.
The proposal to reorganise CAAB has come after three decades and totally changed scenario in the air transportation-both nationally and internationally. The new organogram is designed to meet the current needs as well as to keep pace with the growing and changing trend.
Unfortunately, however, for reason unknown MOCAT is dragging its feet instead of hasten the process. The new organogram was submitted in February this year, but no significant progress has been made.