Md Shaifuzzaman Ayon

Bangladesh is preparing to allow private and foreign investment in air cargo handling, breaking the monopoly of state-owned Biman Bangladesh Airlines.

The policy, drafted recently, aims to enable competitive tariffs for air cargo handling for the exporters and importers fed up with the “poor” service offered by the state handler.

Officials said the issue of private and foreign investment in Bangladesh handling has long been discussed, but the recent situation at Dhaka, following constant scanner failure, which led to severe logjams of cargo-laden trucks, inside and outside the airport, has driven the policy forward.

Traders and port users have welcomed the move, saying that private and foreign investors would help develop the efficiency of Biman, which will be forced to raise its service quality with competition from abroad.

The Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism has forwarded the draft policy to stakeholders seeking their comments.

If the policy is approved, the civil aviation authority will appoint regulated air cargo agents (RACAs), who will have to pay a security deposit, nearly $60,000 in the case of Bangladeshi private companies while a joint-venture of private and foreign companies have to pay $90,000.

To get a licence, an RACA will have to pay $30,000 and the renewal fee is set at $12,500. There will be four handling categories with separate licences for apparel, perishables, courier items and others.

Once appointed, regulated agents will stuff outbound cargo, release imports, handle containers and screen the cargo in line with parameters set by the civil aviation authority. They will also be tasked with responsibility for completion of customs-related procedures and handing over cargo to ground handling agents at the airport.

Syed Md Bakhtiar, VP of the Bangladesh Freight Forwarders Association, said in most countries such airport services were handled by private and foreign firms with hardly any state-run agencies involved in this work.

“Biman’s efficiency will improve following appointment of RACAs, as it will face competition,” he told The Loadstar.

Abul Kalam Azad, a Dhaka-based garment exporter, said enhancing service quality had long been demanded by airport users who send goods by air because they need to be shipped rapidly.

“Our cargo can wait for weeks at the airport due to Biman’s inefficiency,” he said.