RMG exporters fear losses for airport kickbacks
Garment exporters fear significant business losses due to missed freight transport deadlines as the number of scanners and flights at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka is currently insufficient to meet demand .
Now is the perfect time to ship merchandise for the upcoming Christmas sales. With stocks nearing depleted in the fallout from the pandemic, Western retailers and brands are requesting merchandise by air to stores to take advantage of the peak sales season.
But shipments face delays as there are only two explosives scanners, which currently have to process 1,200 tonnes of dry cargo every day, 85% of which is clothing.
On a normal day, 800 tonnes of freight passed through the two scanners, which was already a very difficult task, said Nurul Amin, general manager of freight forwarder Tower Freight.
Now the task is nearly impossible, said a senior official at a chartered cargo flight operator in Dhaka, asking not to be named.
The situation has become more difficult because of the shortage of air cargo flights, whether dedicated or by the luggage space available on passenger planes, for increased export demand.
However, compared to the pre-pandemic period, those flights have dropped from 15 per day to 25 currently, he said. Still, they can’t ship all cargo and nearly 200 tons of cargo can’t be shipped without scanning, Amin said.
Bangladeshi suppliers face flight shortages in the past two months, which is alarming at this peak season for the apparel industry after economies reopen, said Kutub Uddin Ahmed, chairman of Envoy Group. , one of the leading clothing exporters.
Almost all airlines are now prioritizing China and many have even recently suspended flights from Dhaka because they receive payments three to four times higher from Chinese suppliers, said Ahmed, also an operator of air freight.
Demand has skyrocketed for the Christmas season as urgent flights are chosen to center shipping backlogs resulting from garment factory closures in August for the Eid holiday and the lockdown, he said. he declares.
Another complexity has arisen for the new rules introduced last week, stipulating that exports can enter the airport 30 hours before the flight.
Often there were long lines of trucks sometimes going all the way to Mymensingh and waiting up to two or three days to enter the airport, Nurul Amin said.
Trucks, even if they carry exports scheduled to fly in a few hours, cannot skip the queue, resulting in missed loading times and for which many flights have taken off leaving behind. their cargo, he added.
In this time of crisis with the influx of cargo, four of the airport’s eight loading docks remained inoperative, he said.
“We need larger scanning machines that can scan entire containers at one time to complete the scan in a timely manner,” said an airline official asking not to be named.
The people in charge of operating the scanners must be professional, as exporters and airline managers very often complain that whenever there is urgency and pressure of work orders, these operators can be bribed to reduce the lists. reservation, he said.
Air cargo operators have also doubled the charges against the influx of exports, he said.
Until two months ago, sending a kilogram of goods from Dhaka to any European city cost between $ 3.20 and $ 3.50. Now it is between $ 5.50 and $ 6, the official said.
One that is sent to the United States costs between $ 10 and $ 12 whereas previously it cost between $ 5 and $ 5.50, he said.
“… Schools in the United States have been reopened for which the demand for clothing items has increased dramatically in the Western world,” he said.
Some scanners have been out of service since September 17, Kabir Ahmed, president of the Bangladesh Freight Forwarders Association, said in a letter the same day to the president of the Bangladesh Civil Aviation Authority (Caab).
“With such a crucial circumstance and a massive peak, it is quite tragic that Caab (Bangladesh Civil Aviation Authority) and Biman (Bangladesh Airlines) are unable to effectively manage cargo operations,” he said. declared.
“Despite my numerous requests on various concerns, Caab did not act on time. I have reason to believe that Caab did not heed our requests,” he added.
Work on installing new scanners is proceeding very slowly while two new explosives scanners provided by the Japan International Cooperation Agency are currently awaiting validation from the European Union after a 15-month delay, he said. .
“I think the entire export process and management of HSIA is on the verge of collapse,” the letter read.
Speaking to the Bangladesh Monitor, AHM Touhid-ul Ahsan, executive director of airport cargo operations, however, said that 1.5 times more cargo was handled at the airport daily compared to levels before. the pandemic.
The number of flights is not the problem, as there are many other anomalies for which exporters, freight forwarders and airlines are responsible and must cooperate with the airport to resolve them, he said.
“The export of goods has become a national problem at the moment. It is not fair to place the blame on HSIA alone, because we are the service provider and the facilitator, ”Ahsan lamented.
“We want the movement of goods to be accelerated flawlessly. Several agencies are involved here: Caab, Biman, HSIA, freight forwarders and exporters. ” he said.
Previously, Biman Bangladesh Airlines was the warehouse keeper at the airport. The airport authority dealt only with safety and facilities issues while Biman Bangladesh Airlines and freight forwarders worked together to move the cargo.
But currently, the warehouse is overloaded with goods.
With the arrival of complaints, the airport authority began to work on the issue and became aware of several embezzlements.
This includes exporters bringing their goods two to three days before the flights, Ahsan said.
There are some who even store their goods in the airport warehouse without any prior reservation, as if it were their personal space, he said.
Shahidullah Azim, vice president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said now is the time for Bangladesh’s garment sector to recoup losses suffered last year and turn around. as work orders skyrocketed.
“We need the operation of the airport to be done very smart so that we can reach the goods to our buyers in a timely manner,” he told the Daily Star by phone.