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12 May, 2017

US-Bangla Airlines starts four-weekly flights to Bangkok

Bangkok – US-Bangla airlines, a rapidly rising private airline operating out of Bangladesh, has started four weekly flights to Bangkok.

To be operated by a Boeing 737-800 aircraft, with a 156 (Y) and 8 (J) seat configuration, the full-service flights are expected to go a long way towards boosting Bangladeshi tourism to Thailand.

However, the Bangladeshi Ambassador to Thailand Ms. Saida Muna Tasneem told the inaugural reception that she was hoping to also see more Thais going to Bangladesh, and help narrow the massive imbalance in bilateral travel flows.

US-Bangla Airlines now becomes the fifth carrier to operate on the Dhaka-Bangkok route, after Thai Airways, Bangladesh Biman, Regent Airways and Bangkok Airways.

Guests at the reception dinner.

The airline is part of a conglomerate with investment from ethnic Bangladeshis living in the U.S. Its other businesses cover real estate, leather, media & communication, agro, fashion, foods, furniture, pharmaceuticals, resorts & tourism etc.

The airline’s website lists these holdings as American Purbachal City, a small township on the outskirt of Dhaka, East American City, Holidays Homes an ongoing project in Kuakata, Green University of Bangladesh, US-BANGLA Medical College & Hospital and US-BANGLA Leather Products Ltd.

The airline was launched in July 2014 and initially operated only on domestic routes, using Dash 8 Bombardier aircraft. In October 2016 after taking delivery of its first Boeing 737-800, it began flights to Kathmandu.

In an interview, Mr. Ghazi Salahuddin, the airline’s Director Marketing & Sales, said that after the second and third 737-800s were delivered respectively in December 2016 and February 2017, the airline began operating to Muscat, Kuala Lumpur, Colombo and Singapore.

Bangkok was originally one of the first points planned in ASEAN but the airline had difficulty getting slots because of the closure of one runway at Suvarnabhumi airport.

Two more 737-800s are coming in July and August which will be deployed on planned routes to Dammam, Chennai, Jakarta and Bali.

Mr. Ghazi said the airline prides itself in breaking new ground with innovative service initiatives. In a country known for aviation delays, mainly due to infrastructure problems, US-Bangla Airlines is operating with a 98.7% punctuality factor. One aircraft is kept on permanent standby, ready for use in case of any technical problems.

By doing its own ground handling, the airline strives to ensure that baggage is at the carousel within 30 minutes. International passengers usually find that their bags are waiting for them after they exit immigration, Mr. Ghazi said.

A special service sees the airline staff helping  the large number of outbound Bangladeshi workers fill out immigration forms. This is a boon for the hundreds of workers with low literacy levels, and also reduces delays at immigration counters.

Business travellers are given pickup services to and from their homes, he said.

On the Bangkok sector, the priority target traffic is mainly inbound from Bangladesh into Thailand, especially upmarket Bangladeshis and medical tourists. According to Ministry of Tourism & Sports figures, Bangladesh visitors to Thailand totalled 107,394 in 2016, down 6.6% over 2015.

The Ministry figures show the number of Thais leaving for Bangladesh in 2015 was only 9,648, up 12.76% over 2014. They had an average length of stay of 5.76 days and a per capita daily expenditure of US$118.

In 2016, Ambassador Tasneem said the embassy had issued 6,500 visas to Thais, up from only 4,000 when she took over in 2014.

To rectify that imbalance, the Bangladeshis are trying to promote outbound Buddhist traffic from Thailand. She said most of Bangladesh’s Buddhist population is concentrated in the Chittagong hilltribes area. Special tourism packages are being launched for Thais to visit some of the iconic Buddhist temples in Dhaka and other parts of the country.

She said the late Thai King, His Majesty Bhumibhol Adulyadej had visited Bangladesh way back in 1962. In 2004, the present King, HM Vajiralongkorn visited Bangladesh when he was still the Crown Prince. The Thai people should follow in their footsteps, she said.

In 2015, the Thai Tourism Minister Mrs Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul visited Bangladesh. A bilateral Tourism Agreement is in the works, and the Ambassador said she hoped it would facilitate more Thai traffic to Bangladesh.

The airline’s managing director Abdullah Al Mamun

Mr Ghazi Salahuddin