Uncertainty hangs over sending remaining Hajj pilgrims
Despite getting 14 extra slots from the Saudi government to carry Hajj pilgrims, uncertainty looms over sending them to Saudi Arabia due to shortage of aircraft as Biman Bangladesh Airlines will be able to use only seven slots.
However, the two pilgrim carriers - Biman and Saudi Arabian Airlines - have already cancelled 28 Hajj flights collectively due to passenger shortage.
In this situation, Hajj Agencies' Association of Bangladesh (HAAB) and Biman Bangladesh Airlines and Hajj officials have become apprehensive about sending the remaining Hajj pilgrims to Saudi Arabia in time. Of those, Biman cancelled 24 and the remaining 4 were cancelled by the Saudi Arabian Airlines.
The leaders of HAAB demanded arrangement of extra carriers to carry all the pilgrims on time.
According to the officials concern, Biman on Saturday rescheduled a Hajj flight scheduled to leave Dhaka at 1:25pm due to shortage of Hajj passengers.
However, around 60,000 pilgrims out of 1, 27,198 allocated for Bangladesh quota have left Dhaka for Saudi Arabia till last Saturday to perform Hajj this year.
Airlines authorities are left with 14 more days to fly out the remaining pilgrims. Some 67,200 passengers are yet to fly to perform Hajj.
Various Hajj agency owners and HAAB leaders apprehends that it may not be possible for the two carriers to carry the rest of the pilgrims in time to Saudi Arabia. To carry all in time, they said , they will have to arrange other carriers.
HAAB Secretary General Shahadat Hossain Taslim told this correspondent, "Visa is not now a problem. But we are concerned about sending the pilgrims in time as Biman authority informed us that they would not be able to use 14 extra slots allocated for Bangladesh recently."
"So, we have suggested the authority to stop some international routes for some days to carry the pilgrims. It would be better for the government to consider the proposal," he added.
He also said that they have already given the guidelines to the authority concerned how to solve the predicament.
"If the authority concerned hires extra carrier or third carrier, there will be no problem to transport all the hajj pilgrims timely. Otherwise, a good number of pilgrims would not be able to fly for Saudi Arabia," Bangladesh Pilgrims and Hajji Welfare Council President Dr Abdullah Al Naser told this correspondent.
He also urged the government to take punitive measures against the Hajj agents, Biman officials and others related with Hajj for creating such unwarranted crisis.
When contacted, Director of Ashkona Hajj Office Saiful Islam told this correspondent that the Biman authority has informed them that they would not be able to use all of the 14 extra slots due to its timing. If it fails, then the pilgrims will have to suffer.
"But, the Biman is trying to reschedule the timing the Saudi government has allocated. However, the Biman is not thinking yet to hire any other carrier or flights to carry the passengers," he added.
He also informed that the five Hajj agencies have already replied to their notices and completed their visa processing works by August 12. Consequentially, all 635 Hajj agencies completed their pilgrim's visa lodgment procedures by now. The Saudi authority has already issued visas for 1.03 lakh pilgrims.
General Manager Public Relations (GMPR) of Biman Shakil Meraj told this correspondent that one more hajj flight has been rescheduled on Saturday due to inadequate pilgrims.
"The flight BG-9027 was scheduled to leave Dhaka at 1:25pm - but it was rescheduled due to shortage of passenger but the flight was not cancelled" he said replying to a query.
Biman started the hajj flights on July 24 and will continue till August 26.