Based on its application to the US Department of Transportation, Biman Bangladesh has requested permission to fly to the US. Using the Boeing 787-9, it intends to operate five weekly flights from Dhaka through Izmir (Turkey) to New York JFK, including a stop in Izmir for refuelling and crew changes.
The inbound traffic would never end. The return trip would be among the world’s longest non-stop journeys at a massive 7,880 miles (12,681 kilometres). This is presuming Bangladesh achieves Category 1 classification, as required by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Dhaka to New York is a big market
Don’t be misled. There are a lot of individuals that commute between JFK and the capital of Bangladesh. Data from reservations shows that more than 152,000 people did so in 2019.
The point-to-point (P2P) market has 205 passengers daily each way (PDEW) when viewed fairly but unjustly over a year, which excludes demand seasonality. Compared to Dhaka-London Heathrow (119,000; 163 PDEW), JFK had a far larger P2P market.
The problem is not market size
While total passenger volume was very good, passenger traffic is not premium but instead comprises visiting friends and relatives and other leisure passengers. Writing on LinkedIn, an airline network planner and market commentator suggested that 90% of the market demand is from these two segments. The remaining 10% is business travelers “at the very most.”
Why prices are not excessive for an ultra-long-haul market might be attributed to the nature of the traffic. 2019 saw an average one-way fare of $730 for all passengers across all airlines (taxes were not included; fuel fee was). This applies to the entire market.
It’s instructive to contrast Heathrow to Dhaka-JFK. The busiest airport in the UK had an average ticket that was 31% more expensive per mile from Dhaka than JFK while being 37% closer in terms of distance. Why not just codeshare from Heathrow to JFK? It would be a lower-risk choice, especially in light of the anticipated JFK losses.
To lose $34 million a year?
Biman Bangladesh returning to JFK would be great for avgeeks, and it would be similar in rarity value to Uzbekistan Airways. However, Biman Bangladesh to JFK would be highly costly, risky, and unprofitable. Other opportunities for its aircraft make more commercial sense.
The insider said in a LinkedIn post that they anticipated the route, if it were to operate, to incur a five-weekly frequency net loss of US$34 million annually, including cargo. Due of the distance, it would also need to devote a sizable portion of its assets—one and a half aircraft—to JFK. There are just two 787-9s there, each with a three-class, 298-seat configuration.
What could be done instead?
Of course, the road would be a prestige-driven, flag-waving project pushed by the Bangladeshi government rather than by the needs of the marketplace.
Let’s say they insist on it and do not want to codeshare through Heathrow. In that instance, the source claims that switching to a three-weekly frequency throughout the year would cut the net loss to an estimated $19 million. Even though there would still be a significant issue, there would only be one aircraft assigned.
Actively targeting transfer passengers over Dhaka across Southeast Asia with highly competitive connections would help, especially in the off-season when P2P Bangladesh demand is lower. It would assist with traffic and revenue, if not the route’s success. However, Biman is not set up for this and is not a coordinated hub operator.