Saudis Warn Against Using Old Aircraft During Hajj
Saturday, 14 August 2010

The Saudia Arabian government has issued a warning to Bangladesh's civil aviation authorities over operating old aircraft to fly hajj pilgrims to the country.

GM Quader, the civil aviation minister told bdnews24.com on Friday that the Saudi authorities had last week sent a letter to Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) saying they would physically inspect all aircraft over 20 years of age if Dhaka tried to operate such planes to carry hajj pilgrims.

They would not allow such old planes to land to protect the safety of their airports. The Saudis would also restrict other aircraft if their physical condition and maintenance system failed to meet international standards, the minister said.

CAAB on Thursday forwarded the letter to the civil aviation ministry, which has been under huge pressure from the national flag carrier Biman and from a parliamentary standing committee to allow aircraft of over 26 years old to carry hajj pilgrims.

The ministry officials said the Saudi letter was a blow to the Biman management as it had lobbied the highest office of the government to allow the Cabo Air, a Nigerian company, to carry hajj passengers in the coming season without registration from the CAAB.

As set out in the rules, all operators must get registration from CAAB to fly planes from Bangladesh. CAAB does not register aircraft over 20 years of age.

But the civil aviation ministry can overrule the CAAB rules and allow older aircraft to fly without CAAB registration.

GM Quader a couple of weeks back even threatened to resign over the issue.

"CAAB has sent me the letter from the Saudi civil aviation authorities," GM Quader told bdnews24.com at his residence on Friday.

He said, "If we allow the Cabo aircraft of over 26 years of age, we are sure to face troubles in carrying hajj pilgrims."

"The Cabo aircraft are almost sure to fail the Saudi screening as the conditions of their planes are not good."

The minister said he had already talked to prime minister Sheikh Hasina about the matter since Biman and the parliamentary standing committee on civil aviation ministry constantly pressed the minister to allow Cabo's older aircraft for transporting hajj pilgrims.

The hajj flights are scheduled to start on October 8.

As per preliminary estimates, some 75,000 pilgrims will perform hajj this year. The number can go up to 94,000, subject to approval from the Saudi government.

Nine private operators have already assured the civil aviation ministry that they would carry hajj pilgrims with planes registered with the CAAB.

The CAAB chairman had also written a letter to the civil aviation minister not to allow aircraft over 20 years of age considering a warning given by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

"IACO has put Bangladesh's civil aviation authorities in its watch list of security concern. CAAB has been trying to upgrade its security and air safety measures," said Quader.

He quoted the CAAB chairman saying that if Bangladesh failed to upgrade its air safety oversight measures, no international company would operate flights from Bangladesh.

Source: bdnews24.com

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