Govt eyes Arial Beel, 3 other sites

New International Airport
Bhanga (Faridpur)
Arial Beel (Munshiganj)
Sirajdikhan (Munshiganj)
Baghiar Beel (Madaripur-Gopalganj)

After a prolonged controversy and loss of a life over building a new mega international airport in Arial Beel area of Munshiganj, the government is still planning to go on with the project, although now it is considering three new locations along with the old one.

The three new sites under consideration are Bhanga of Faridpur, Baghiar Beel of Madaripur-Gopalganj, and Sirajdikhan of Munshiganj districts while Arial Beel is also still being considered. Bhanga is 62 kilometres from Zero Point in the capital, Baghiar Beel is 110 km, Sirajdikhan 18 km, and Arial Beel 28 km.

Yesterday a cabinet meeting discussed construction of the new international airport and the possible sites.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina asked the authorities concerned to submit a detailed proposal regarding site selection to her within a week.

The government has been planning to construct Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib International Airport, since last year. Initially it chose Trishal in Mymensingh as a possible site, but then it changed its mind and chose Arial Beel in Munshiganj as the site, giving rise to a huge outcry from the local people that led to a series of protests and loss of a life.

Talking to The Daily Star yesterday one of the senior ministers said some cabinet members are giving priority to the Bhanga site, situated on the south side of the Padma river. The site is located 15 km off the proposed site for Padma Bridge.

The civil aviation ministry mentioned four sites at the weekly cabinet meeting in Bangladesh Secretariat, and the cabinet expressed its firm determination about constructing the new airport.

Sources in the ministry said a team, comprising the head of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib International Airport Construction Cell and experts from the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (Caab), and Bangladesh Air Force visited the sites a couple of months ago, conducted pre-feasibility studies and submitted survey reports to the ministry.

Talking to The Daily Star recently, Civil Aviation Minister GM Quader said after the premier and the cabinet select one site, the aviation ministry will appoint a consulting firm to conduct a feasibility study, and after that the ministry will float tender for possible contractors. The construction contract will be awarded on build-operate-transfer (BOT) basis, said Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib International Airport Construction Cell chief Joynal Abedin Talukder.

Earlier, the government finalised the vast swamp of Arial Beel without any feasibility study.

Following the mass protest against selection of Arial Beel and the loss of life of a policeman, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in February announced that no airport will be built in Arial Beel, “if people do not want”. At that time she said possibly a new site will be chosen on the “other [south] side of the Padma river”.

Back then many experts said the country does not need another international airport right now, rather the existing ones should be expanded, for which provisions also exist.

The premier back then said in the next 10 years, the number of flights at Shahjalal International Airport will be over one lakh a year. And that airport will not be able to handle such a large number of flights even after massive renovation.

She also said the concept of a new airport, which is a must for the next generation, had been developed during her party’s previous tenure in 1996-2001.

Officials in Caab and the cell formed to construct the new airport recently said they selected the four sites south of Dhaka as all international air routes excepting only two go over those districts.

They are however giving priority to Sirajdikhan as the best possible site considering its proximity to the capital.

But some sources said some of the sycophants around the premier are pushing for Bhanga of Faridpur, and Baghiar Beel of Madaripur-Gopalganj because they believe giving the idea of building a mega airport with the name of Bangabandhu in the traditional bastion of support for ruling Awami League will carry points for them with the prime minister.

Caab officials however said no site was chosen in Tangail or Mymensingh because flight time of aircraft will increase, the flight path will come into conflict with the airspace used by Bangladesh Air Force for training purposes, and absence of river route there will increase carrying cost of aviation fuel.

Yesterday’s cabinet meeting also decided in principle to expand the existing international airports and strengthen Caab so it may promote itself to Category 1 from Category 2, as it was downgraded by the US Federal Aviation Administration.

Currently Bangladeshi airlines cannot operate flights to the US because of Caab’s Category 2 status.

LGRD and Cooperatives Minister Syed Ashraful Islam told the cabinet meeting that Bangladesh needs a modern airport at any cost. “Besides, we need to expand the existing international airports and strengthen the civil aviation authority,” he added.

At the meeting some of the ministers seriously criticised the services of some private airlines operating both international and domestic flights. They said the services of those airlines are very poor. They also do not maintain flight schedules causing great sufferings for passengers, the ministers added.

Talking to reporters after the meeting one of the senior ministers said the air conditioners do not work on United and GMG aircraft. “What a miserable condition in their flights! We raised the matter at the meeting,” he said preferring not to be named.

When asked whether these kinds of airlines should be allowed to operate, some of the ministers emphasised on strengthening the civil aviation authority and said the authorities must act tough against these kinds of operators to ensure services, safety, and standards.

Shariful Islam and Hasan Jahid Tusher – Daily star

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