Biman Bangladesh Airlines is facing geopolitical complications over its plans to restart services between its home base in Dhaka, Bangladesh (DAC), and Rome’s Fiumicino Airport (FCO). The issues have arisen due to US sanctions on Iran, given that the proposed flights are due to operate through Iranian airspace.

According to Biman, as the flights need to fly over Iran, Bangladesh’s national airline would be required to pay overflight fees and air traffic control charges to the Iranian authorities, as per globally agreed international rules. However, any such payment would be deemed to be in contravention of Western sanctions currently in place against Iran.

“The US is not allowing us to make overflying charge payments to Iran on the grounds of sanctions,” a top official of Biman told The Daily Star newspaper in Bangladesh.

“If we cannot pay the overflying charges, Iran will not allow us to fly over its sky. We have already paid some money to Iran and the US is creating problems over it,” said the Biman official.

“We will have to change the flight path if we cannot use Iranian airspace, meaning that we will have to use the [airspace] of three additional countries which will extend the duration of the flight by around one-and-a-half hours,” the source added.

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It should take around nine hours for Biman to reach Rome using Iran’s airspace. However, should an alternative route be required, this will increase the flight time to around 10 hours 30 minutes. The alternative route will also increase costs for Biman due to the extra fuel required plus additional overflight and navigation charges, which, the airline says would need to be passed on to the passenger in terms of increased fares, eroding the economic viability of the route.

Biman was planning to use a route that overflies Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Bosnia in order to operate its aircraft from Dhaka to Rome. The carrier has already started selling tickets for the flights which are scheduled to resume on March 26, 2024, which also happens to be Independence Day in Bangladesh.

Between March 26 and March 31, 2024, Biman flight BG355 will depart Dhaka every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday at 02:00 local time landing in Rome at 07:00 local time. Then from April 1, the flight will take off from Dhaka on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays an hour later at 03:00 as per the summer schedule and arrive in the Italian capital at 09:10. The return flights will leave Rome at 10:45 and land in Dhaka at 23:45 as BG356.

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All flights will be operated by the carrier’s fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliners. According to ch-aviation, Biman currently operates four 787-8s and two 787-9s seating 271 and 298 passengers, respectively. The balance of the carrier’s 21-aircraft fleet is made up of six 737-800s, four 777-300ERs, and five DHC-8-Q400 turboprops.

Biman originally began flying to Rome in 1981 but the route was discontinued in 2015 due to persisting losses.

Asked about the US sanctions issue, which is currently unresolved, the Biman official told the Daily Star, “We have already informed the USA through the foreign ministry in this regard. But we are yet to get any response.”

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