Thursday, Sep 20, 2018
Transport | Asia-Pacific | Bangladesh

Airline expansion

The growth of Biman Bangladesh Airlines

3 years ago
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Mr. Kyle Haywood

CEO & Managing Director of Biman Bangladesh Airlines

Mr. Kyle Haywood, the new CEO & Managing Director of Biman Bangladesh Airlines, sits with United World to discuss the company’s strategies for expansion, as well as the growth of the flag carrier, and advice to those looking to invest in Bangladesh.

You have been here a little over 6 weeks now, and you really hit the ground running. Biman represents a challenge, as well as a tremendous opportunity, with the air transport sector experiencing around 8% annual growth. Where do you see Biman fitting into the future of Bangladesh?

The national carrier for any airline serves a vital purpose. Our purpose is to develop growth of trade and leisure links as well as serve the travelling needs of the Bangladeshi citizens around the world. We connect Bangladesh to the world and the world to Bangladesh. Obviously as its own entity it needs to be a profitable entity. These are the primary areas that we believe are our ‘raison d’etre’, where we see ourselves and how we add value to the country.

In 2007 Biman was made the largest public limited company, there was then further talk of privatization. Is that something that is still being considered?

The issue of privatization isn’t off the table. What we need to do before we are in a position to go down that path is to strengthen the basic foundation of the carrier. We must invest further in a modern and relevant fleet, rationalize and grow the network, manage cost and invest in our people and training. We have regular and important dialogue with the government to ensure we are aligned to better support the wider country vision.

In terms of fleet renewal, what new acquisitions are you looking to make in the future?

Over the last 18 months, we have made great progress. We have added four new 777-300 ER aircraft, owned by the company. They are proving to be a good size for us and are obviously adding value to the business in terms of both operational performance and cost effectiveness. We will take delivery of two new 737-800 aircraft later this year; the first entering commercial service in December and the second, a month later. Additionally, we are leasing two 777-200ER until 2019 which will exit the fleet on arrival of the 787’s. The two oldest aircraft in our fleet, both A310’s will be retired from service early next year.

In terms of the wide body aircraft longer term, we have committed to the first four 787-800 aircraft with a delivery from 2019 onwards. To help manage interim further capacity growth, we are currently reviewing additional lease aircraft to take advantage of growing market demand in key strategic markets for us.

To support significant growth in our domestic and regional markets, we will take delivery of two modern, leased Dash 8Q400 aircraft in March this year. This allows us to grow our domestic presence by 80%, taking the weekly seat numbers from just under 8,000 to just over 14,000. The growth will go on adding five new domestic destinations and additional frequency on current domestic routes. We are looking at new routes, including several destinations in China where we need a presence. We will also add significant additional frequency/capacity to Saudi Arabia and Malaysia from March 2015.

Additionally, a lot of work is being done by the Civil Aviation Authority in Bangladesh and the FAA to upgrade Bangladesh into a higher category with the FAA.  We are hopeful that the FAA audit later this year will deliver a positive outcome. This then opens the door for Biman to connect Bangladesh directly with North America.

Previously long haul flights to New York had close to USD 80,000 in losses on every flight. Is that something that can be turned around?

It is a highly competitive market so we have to be sure it is the right decision. From a strategic and political standpoint it is good to have a direct connection with North America. The government is keen to see more connectivity with North America and Bangladesh, so we are doing a lot of preparation work to evaluate the most effective ways to do this from summer next year.

We are also actively exploring deeper, wider codeshare relationships with other carriers that can help deliver key objectives and value to the Biman customer.

You mentioned the strategic nature of Biman as the national flag carrier. How closely have you been working with the government to create the new Biman?

Our mandate is to be a profitable, well run organization, and we cannot ignore the fact that we will always be closely aligned to the wider government vision for the country. As far as autonomy, I believe in what I have seen in such a short time, that we have sufficient autonomy to manage and direct our business.

You've worked all around the world in various major airlines, what do you feel is unique about Bangladesh? What do you think the main advantage is that you have here?

Biman Bangladesh Airlines has an identity that attracts considerable passion and interest, especially amongst the Bangladeshi community, at home and overseas. This shows that people are engaging with us. It is a country with a fast growing middle income population with an appetite for travel. International trade and commerce are growing, thanks to government policy, with the result that travel in and out of the country is increasing. Finally, we have a government that wants a strong national airline. This can be seen in its actions and its ongoing support. 

We often hear that resilience, perseverance and human resources are the main advantages of Bangladesh. What sort of investment are you making in your human resources?

The airline has no shortage of people willing to learn and grow. It is true that some working practices are out-dated in a modern business environment, particularly in aviation; where automation, innovation and an unwavering focus on customer service are taken as basic essentials. It would be naïve to suggest that we deliver that across the business. However, through up-skilling, training and behavioral training, we will improve. To support people development the airline has, for the first time in its history, adopted its mission, value and KPI performance management system. Although generally an unfamiliar concept at the airline to date, it is being driven from the very top. It will be implemented in the first half of 2015. It will principally provide a clearer framework in the company to focus on clear objectives and the mechanisms to successfully implement them.

It takes a long time to change company culture to one with a strong commercial and customer service focus, but we are committed to do it. I believe it is vital in all organizations, especially in a business like ours.

Biman is one of the great ambassadors of Bangladesh abroad. When you took the job, and when you talk to your colleagues in the airline industry, or maybe your family back home, how do you describe Bangladesh?

From my perspective, if I use the cycle of life reference, I think of Bangladesh as an energetic teenager. It is relatively young, still shaping its opinions, capabilities and goals for the future. A teenager that is keen to make their mark on the world and be a relevant part of it. Equally, teenagers take good counsel to understand the parameters of what is considered good practice and are willing to make the effort to learn and study in order to be the best that they can be. Teenagers sometimes face tough choices but as they grow, experience and wisdom means that they make informed decisions. As a country, Bangladesh feels, at least to me, like that.




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