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Up in the air

If you say we cannot blame your negligence for five incidents, or accidents, because you have successfully operated more than 50,000 flights since the inception of your company, I don’t agree with you.

There are many companies in Bangladesh who pay taxes worth Tk800cr per year, and would still be penalized for not paying Tk9cr of VAT. They cannot say that they have already paid a huge amount, and that the authorities shouldn’t penalize them for such a scanty amount.

To us, the minds of the commoners, some industries just cannot make mistakes — the consequences are fatal. We cannot sweep it away, saying that it was just an accident or incident. We don’t expect a doctor to make mistakes, but when he or she does, the people don’t forget, nor forgive.

A burger outlet may have been operational for many years, but if one person suddenly dies or falls sick due to any contamination in the food, we won’t term it as an accident. We’d hold them all responsible for their negligence.

Similarly, one cannot deny that the aviation industry is not like the road transport industry — they cannot claim what a bus company can after an incident or accident. We have a very different perception regarding the airline companies — Biman once used to have a tagline that said: “Your home in the air.”

We believe that they have to be compliant to the fullest. That everyone complains is a claim all airline companies make. However, when an incident happens, being compliant doesn’t matter to the people or the passengers any more. The only demand that surfaces is that it must not happen again.

In recent times, we have seen a surge in incidents in the industry. Emergency landings have become too frequent in our country, especially among domestic aircrafts. In October last year, a Biman Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 aircraft coming from Saidpur had to make an emergency landing because one of the wheels fell off after the plane took off.

In 2016, Biman suffered two other incidents that could have been catastrophic. Then in December, a Boeing 737 from Oman to Chittagong had a ruptured tire during its take-off. A Boeing 777 carrying Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to Hungary experienced a rapid drop in fuel pressure, prompting the pilot to make an emergency landing in Turkmenistan.

In August 2018, another US-Bangla aircraft had a ruptured tire, and made an emergency landing in Dhaka.

News of one too many silly mistakes have been creating an atmosphere of declining trust in the airline companies. Recently, a flight of the new Dreamliner of Biman experienced an emergency delay, when an evacuation slide was mistakenly opened by an “inexperienced” engineer. Only days after its maiden flight, Akash Beena’s slide was accidentally ejected.

Now, the question is: Why would an “inexperienced” engineer be given that task in the first place? Biman, however, instantly explained what happened.

See, communicating to the people is highly important — the more you delay in broadcasting your explanation, the more confusion settles in the minds of the people who are your probable customers.

I was delighted to see that the US-Bangla Airlines management has come up with an explanation for the incident that happened last week, when their BS 141 flight had to make an unscheduled stop after the nose gear of the aircraft failed to open.

The management told the press that there was a technical fault that forced the aircraft personnel to make the emergency landing at Shah Amanat International Airport in Chittagong.

Holding the press conference was the correct step. It showed that it wanted to communicate to the members of the public about what actually happened. However, I do have a feeling that the company could have sent out a message in the form of a press statement immediately after the incident. The lack of information leads the people to suspect, and creates rumours in society.

At the moment, people’s trust in the airline company is declining. This doesn’t augur well for the industry.

I have met several people who have already decided to avoid air travel within the country — they’d rather travel by bus or train, no matter how much time it takes to reach the destination. A certain permanent fear has firmly been established in the minds of the passengers.

The authorities, as well as the management of the airline companies, may well come up with an idea to remove these fears from the minds of the people. The best way is to have clear communication with them — explain to them about the incidents as soon as they take place, and tell them what steps are being taken to improve the situation.

First published in Dhaka Tribune of Bangladesh.

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