Inefficient air cargo and parcel handling at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport and lack of a secure warehouse to keep inbound and outbound goods and documents are affecting Bangladesh's foreign trade seriously, insiders said Thursday.
Local businessmen, air express and cargo handling companies said after unloading, the cargo, parcel or documents from the aircraft, sometimes go missing due to insecurity in movement from 'freight areas' to 'small warehouse'.
Meanwhile, officials of the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB), the Biman Bangladesh Airlines and the Customs said the Shahjalal airport lacks both manpower and equipment and other logistics to clear goods, parcels and documents in time.
The difficulties are causing delay in handing over cargoes, parcels and documents to customers in time, officials of express and cargo handling companies said.
Cargo and express operators in Bangladesh claimed the ground handling agent-Bangladesh Biman-usually keeps documents and parcels in open space beside the runway of the Shahjalal airport due to inadequate facilities and warehouses.
Goods and documents often go missing or are damaged due to rain, heat or any other impact of weather, they said.
Biman Bangladesh Airlines is the ground handling authority for all national and international flights in the Shahjalal International Airport.
It handles loading and unloading of cargoes, goods, parcels and documents for inbound and outbound aircraft and flights at the airport.
Tanjil Chowdhury, Managing Director of the TNT Bangladesh, told the FE that inefficiency, lack of automation and manpower of the Biman and the Customs at the airport are the major obstacles for their business operations in Bangladesh.
These problems cause delays in handing over parcels, goods or documents to the customers including importers and exporters inside or outside the country, he added.
"We (air express companies) are ready to invest in developing dedicated warehouse for keeping parcels or documents at the airport before clearance for the Customs. But the government is not providing any dedicated space for the warehouse thus causing insecurity and delays in clearance procedures," said Mr Tanjil.
Sources said only 16 local and international air express companies including DHL, FedEx, TNT, and UPS out of total 54 companies in Bangladesh have got spaces in the small warehouse.
"We usually import accessories of our garment items and product samples through air. But sometimes we received those goods even after one to two weeks due to lack of logistics and facilities at the Dhaka airport," Atiqul Islam, former president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) told the FE.
He said, "The Shahjalal International Airport showcases Bangladesh. If it fails to handle passengers, cargos, parcels or any other things properly, it will carry a bad message to the world. And this message will affect Bangladesh's business."
Mr Islam urged the government to simplify the clearance of cargos, parcels and documents by improving necessary infrastructure, automation, customs procedures and clearance system at the airport for betterment of the country's export and import business.
Bashir AK Chowdhury, Executive Director of FedEx's Bangladesh operator Bangladesh Express Company Limited, told the FE they had been facing huge problems due to delays in clearance over the years.
"After landing of a flight, we expect to deliver the parcels or documents within 24 hours to our customers. But it takes sometimes even two to three days to hand over those due to delay in clearance by the authority concerned," he said.
Mr Bashir urged the authority concerned to introduce 'on-air clearance' system like many other countries to quicken clearance at the Shahjalal airport.
Currently, air express service in Bangladesh is growing by 10 per cent year-on-year.
They said top five companies in Bangladesh have registered nearly Tk 4.89 billion turnover in 2014 compared to Tk 4.55 billion in the previous calendar year 2013.