Cox’s Bazar airport set for expansion
Sohel Parvez and Sayeda Akhter
The government has moved to expand the runway of Cox’s Bazar airport, aiming to upgrade it to international standards and offer foreign holidaymakers a hassle-free trip to the world’s longest unbroken sea beach.
“We have taken steps to expand the runway at Cox’s Bazar airport and develop other facilities,” GM Quader, the civil aviation and tourism minister, told The Daily Star recently.
Airliners and tour operators welcomed the move but said the government should also develop other tourism-related infrastructure and recreation facilities to lure overseas tourists.
Officials of the ministry however said the government had planned to develop an exclusive tourism zone for foreign tourists, refurbish the golf course to international standards and establish a cricket stadium in the beach town.
In line with the move to upgrade the airport, its runway will be expanded from 6,775 feet to 9,000 feet long and the width from 125 feet to 200 feet. Various navigational instruments will be installed, with the total cost estimated at Tk 302 crore.
Shafique Alam Mehdi, secretary in charge of the civil aviation and tourism ministry, said they completed the primary preparations. The organogram for the project has also been approved.
“We will send the proposal to the planning ministry next week for approval.”
The expansion will enable wide-bodied aircraft, such as the Airbus 310, to land at the airport. It will also allow foreign tourists to come to Cox’s Bazar by chartering aircraft, officials said.
The project, as per the proposal, is expected to be completed by June 2012, if work begins this fiscal year.
“We want to declare the Cox’s Bazar airport as an international airport after the runway is expanded. Now we aim to begin work as soon as possible,” said Quader.
In the second phase of development, the terminal building and other necessary facilities will be established, he added.
The attempt to upgrade the airport comes as Bangladesh tries to boost its hospitality industry by promoting its natural wonders, such as the sea beach, the coral island of St Martin’s and the mangrove forest, the Sundarbans, to global tourists who are visiting Bangladesh at an increasing rate every year.
For the past several years, the inflow of foreign tourists to one of the low cost tourism destination of Bangladesh more than doubled — from two lakh in 2005 to 4.67 lakh in 2008 — according to the civil aviation and tourism ministry.
The majority comes to visit Cox’s Bazar, the Sundarbans and Sylhet. Operators said the developed airport would enable foreigners to fly direct to the beach town.
“The thought behind the expansion is positive. It will encourage airlines to open direct flights from abroad to the tourism spot. However, unless various other facilities for tourists are created, it may not be sustainable,” said Captain Tasbirul Ahmed Choudhury, chairman and managing director of three-fleet carrier United Airways Ltd, operating four flights a week from Cox’s Bazar.
He also stressed the need to create 24-hour landing and take-off facilities for aircraft and establish refuelling stations to enable carriers to plan convenient flights.
Foreign carriers operate from two airports — Dhaka and Chittagong — with the airport in Sylhet failing to attract foreign airliners because of an absence of refuelling facilities.
Taufiq Uddin Ahmed, president of Tour Operators’ Association of Bangladesh (TOAB), echoed Choudhury suggestions and said the government should take immediate measures to develop adequate infrastructure to attract tourist.
“Otherwise, extending the runway or turning it to an international airport will not make any difference,” he said. He also recommended branding Bangladesh properly as a holiday destination.