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27 Mar 2016   12:32:36 PM   Sunday BdST A- A A+ Print this E-mail this

Cameron deadline hangs as sword of Damocles over Biman flight ban

Moslem Uddin Ahmed

Airport is no exception, everything in the Bengali lifestyle is lax--a merry-go-round type in essence. But that habitual fact does no longer stands amid the naughty environs emerging in and around. The HSIA hullabaloo over security is rooted in that conundrum.


The naughtiness of the restive situation around the world is emphatically proved in the latest terror strike—the Brussels bombings on March 22. The attacks on metro and airport left more than 30 people dead and many maimed. Reports said the strike in Europe’s virtual capital--months after the Paris attacks by the IS that killed 130 people, brought life in Belgium to a standstill and sent in terror panic through the continental European Union.               


Earlier, the western world had raised the issue of security lapses at Bangladesh`s main gateway. Travel alerts were also issued by major powers in the wake of some killings of foreigners in Bangladesh. And Australia had ostensibly moved faster through cricket trip cancellation and a ban on cargo flight from Bangladesh.         


International aviation-watchdog missions had previously visited and tested and judged the security parapets at the airport in Dhaka. There had been an advisory: mend the lacking and loopholes. Particularly, a British airport-security specialist team had made a spot inspection last November and suggested fulfilling requirements to achieve international air-security standards of the day.


A long time is lost. Now an abrupt action comes for one part and a short timeline ticks past for the other part of plane flights from Dhaka to London. “How would you meet this short-range deadline when things couldn’t be righted so long from November?` Ekattor TV`s London correspondent shot this question to the minister concerned in Dhaka.


However, true to the dictum `desperate diseases call for desperate remedies`, the UK-desired rectification recipe got through a meteoric speed. The cost is a king`s ransom--Tk 73.98 crore for two years as consultancy fee plus prices of all the modern machines to be required for building the security bulwark in British style.


In doing so posthaste, the government had to leapfrog the public procurement rules, reports said. Redline Aviation Security firm of the United Kingdom has been hired for two years to set up the security setup including state-of-the-art scanners and train up an army of airport personnel to operate the juggernaut.


How the rollercoaster gests rolling has an episode staged at top level. On March 8, the British government imposed ban on direct cargo flight to London out of security concerns as the airport authorities had not met some international security requirements. All airlines carrying cargo between Bangladesh and the United Kingdom on indirect routes were asked to ensure it is re-screened before its final leg into the UK.


In a double bind, March 31 was set hanging overhead like the sword of Damocles for Bangladesh to meet the security requirements or come under another embargo—the second on direct passenger flight from Dhaka to London.


This time around, no detour—the deadline reportedly came in a formal letter direct from British Prime Minister David Cameron to his Bangladesh counterpart, PM Sheikh Hasina.


Such an exigency came close on the heels of Bangladesh’s foreign reserves hest from its account with the US Federal Reserve Bank in New York through a digital burglary by a trans-national racket of hackers of online transaction systems based on global SWIFT network.


The siphoning of some $100 million under an aborted billion-dollar-heist blueprint remained a riddle to date, with a pall of gloom prevailing over the ambience of Bangladesh Bank. Most part of the looted money has gone done in gaming in the Philippines. Big extern players like FBI and World Bank are in for a repair and rescue operation alongside domestic agencies.                               

Authorities in government, however, smelt a rat in the sequence of events. Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister Rashed Khan Menon wondered as the air ban came all of a sudden. He told a TV talk show that there had been some objections about passenger flight, not air freight. But it’s a cargo ban. “Maybe, something else is there,” he said.                  


Some of the talk-show discussants hint at geopolitics at play. But leave all such assumptions apart, there are certainly lapses in operation of the airport and the airplanes of the national airlines—Biman—others among them pointed out.


Jatiya Party MP in the current parliament and ex-minister in the erstwhile Ershad government Kazi Feroz Rashid went to the extent of saying: “The airline has been made into a safe route of smuggling.” He and others of this school of critics mentioned gold smuggling.                     


However, the tensions over the air ban began to subside with the emergency measures taken and the UK firm securing the consultancy deal. As part of top priority to the task of saving the situation, the aviation minister camped at the airport with his cohorts in the ministry in a shift of office for spot supervision of the rectification measures.               


The British foreign secretary lately phoned his Bangladesh counterpart to assure that actions were being reconsidered.               

Philip Hammond was quoted as saying to AH Mahmood Ali that the ban would be reconsidered while passenger flights between the two capitals would remain uninterrupted in view of the steps being taken by the authorities for improvement of airport security and also “historical relations between the two countries”.


Meanwhile, the taboo evoked sharp reactions from the local business groups as the UK is one of the largest trading partners of Bangladesh and also gateway to the European Union. Huge trade and Biman’s income are involved. The national flag carrier already reels from Dhaka-New York flight suspension.   


The government fired the secretary of the civil aviation and tourism ministry and the chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh. And the minister began doing office at the airport as part of the move to improve the situation.      


However, the deadline hangs overhead and the situation took a new twist from the Brussels bombings and carnage in the Euro capital. It remains to be seen how things develop on the Dhaka-London air route.     

(This story was published in The News Today on March 24, 2016)





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