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Bangladesh, Indonesia Eye Air Connectivity, Deeper Cooperation In Civil Aviation – OpEd

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In line with rapidly growing economic ties between Indonesia and Bangladesh, there is an urgent need to have direct flights between Jakarta and Dhaka to promote tourism, trade and air connectivity, senior officials and stakeholders from both countries’ civil aviation sectors said at an international webinar.  

With the title “The Vision of Bangabandhu in Structuring Aviation of Bangladesh and Prospects of Cooperative Landscape in Aviation Sector between Bangladesh and Indonesia”, the webinar was organized by the Embassy of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh in Jakarta on Tuesday (Nov. 2).

The webinar was held to celebrate the ‘Mujib Year’, the Birth Centenary of the Father of the Nation of Bangladesh, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and the Golden Jubilee of the Independence of Bangladesh.

It was a unique webinar, says Bangladesh Ambassador to Indonesia Air Vice Marshal (ret) Mohammad Mostafizur Rahman. 

“The webinar was the first of its kind organized to disseminate the vision of the Father of the Nation of Bangladesh in shaping the Aviation of Bangladesh all over the globe and explore the prospective areas of cooperation in the aviation and air transport sector between Bangladesh and Indonesia,” Ambassador Mostafizur, who served as the moderator of the webinar, said.

Two Bangladeshi ministers – State Minister of Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam and State Minister of Civil Aviation and Tourism Md Mahbub Ali – attended the webinar to support the friendship and cooperation between Bangladesh and Indonesia.

In his keynote address, Bangladesh’s Secretary-General of the Aviation Operators Association of Bangladesh (AOAB) Mofizur Rahman presented the potential of Bangladesh’s civil aviation sector and called for the establishment of air connectivity between the two countries.

“We should explore to start a joint venture to produce a light aircraft,” Mofizur said. 

Indonesia is the major producer of airplanes and helicopters in Southeast Asia.  State-owned PT Dirgantara Indonesia (DI) and privately owned Regio Aviasi Industri (RAI) are the main producers of aircraft in Indonesia. 

Indonesia is also very good in Maintenance and Repair Organization (MRO). Bangladesh can use Indonesia for MRO activities.

The chief executive officers of several prominent airlines like Biman, Garuda Indonesia, Lion Air, AirAsia and Merpati and others also spoke at the webinar and made several proposals for cooperation.

“The discussion drew up important elements of mutually beneficial cooperation in aviation between Bangladesh and Indonesia in the field of training, aviation security, flight safety, airport management, air traffic management, search and rescue, firefighting, human resources development, holding workshops and exchanges of expertise,” the Bangladeshi Embassy said in a press release on Nov. 3. 

With its 277.47 million people and a US$1.15 trillion economy, Indonesia is an attractive market for Bangladesh. According to the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), Indonesia currently has 141 million middle class and affluent consumers. 

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), there were 91.3 million air passengers in 2019 in Indonesia. It predicts that Indonesia will become the fourth largest air passenger market in the world by 2039.

With its 166.92 million people and a $352.91 billion GDP, Bangladesh is a new rising star in South Asia. 

“Bangladesh has an impressive track record of growth and poverty reduction. It has been among the fastest growing economies in the world over the past decade, supported by a demographic dividend, strong ready-made garment (RMG) exports, and stable macroeconomic conditions,” the World Bank said in a statement on Oct. 3. 

“Bangladesh tells the world a remarkable story of poverty reduction and development. From being one of the poorest nations at its birth in 1971 and the world’s tenth lowest per capita GDP, Bangladesh reached lower-middle-income status in 2015. It is on track to graduate from the UN’s Least Developed Countries (LDC) list in 2026. Poverty declined from 43.5 percent in 1991 to 14.3 percent in 2016, based on the international poverty line of $1.90 a day (using 2011 Purchasing Power Parity exchange rate). Moreover, human development outcomes improved along many dimensions”.

In 2019, the number of air passengers carried for Bangladesh, which has around 40 million middle class people, was 5.96 million. The number of Bangladesh air passengers increased from 1.33 million in 2000 to 5.96 million in 2019, growing at an average annual rate of 9.11 percent.

According to the IATA, Bangladesh witnessed a 49 percent drop in passenger demand for air travel in 2020 compared to 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Bangladeshi carriers saw their revenues go down by $1.09 billion in 2020 compared to 2019. It is expected that the airlines industry will fully recover in 2024.

There is a similar story in Indonesia, whose airlines industry was hit hard by the pandemic.

People have to wait until the end of the pandemic to realize the potential of cooperation between Bangladesh and Indonesia. 

However, both countries can prepare the groundwork while waiting for the end of COVID-19. The webinar is the first step in that direction.

“It is evident that the webinar will bring civil aviation regulators, top management of airlines and concerned stakeholders of both countries much closer together, and cooperation in aviation in the future will see some fruitful results,” Mostafizur, who himself is a pilot, said.  

The two Muslim-majority countries have been close friends since 1972. They are also Asia’s biggest democracies.

“Democracy is one of the fundamental principles of our state policy. Our very existence as a nation is founded on our long struggle for democracy, justice and rule of law, fought under the leadership of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman,” Shariar said recently.

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Hasina visited Indonesia in 2011, 2015 and 2017, while Indonesian President Joko Widodo visited Bangladesh in 2018 to boost bilateral ties.

The bilateral trade increased by 72.57 percent to $1.84 billion during the first eight months of this year, a huge increase from $1.06 billion during the same period in 2020. The total bilateral trade was $1.76 billion in 2020.

Indonesia enjoys a huge trade surplus with Bangladesh, as it exports coal, palm oil, LNG, automotive spare parts, spices and rubber to South Asian country. Recently, Indonesia’s PT INKA supplied 400 train wagons to Bangladesh.

In terms of passengers as well as cargo, Bangladesh offers so many opportunities for Indonesian airlines. It is a gateway to South Asia.

In fact, in April this year, both Bangladesh and Indonesia agreed to start a Medan-Dhaka route by Lion Air from Indonesia.

“The benefits of a direct flight are expected to boost business and tourism but only if the COVID-19 situation allows,” Indonesian Foreign Ministry said in a press release after the virtual Foreign Office Consultation with its Bangladesh counterpart on April 29, 2021.

In 1997, both Bangladesh and Indonesia signed the bilateral air services agreement and renewed it in 2017 with the main intention of upgrading connectivity and starting direct flights.

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit both countries and the plan to start direct flights have yet to be realized. However, in the meantime, both countries can explore cooperation in MRO, training, cargo and other technical areas mentioned in the webinar.

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Veeramalla Anjaiah

Veeramalla Anjaiah is a Jakarta-based senior journalist and the author of the book “Azerbaijan Seen from Indonesia

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