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history of aviation

History of aviation in Bangladesh

The history of aviation in Bangladesh began with kites, the traditional heavier-than-air man-made object that is flown by one or more people while staying on the ground. The first recorded manned flight was arranged by the Dhaka Nawab Family in 1882, which resulted in the death of the flyer.


Kite flying was one of the many different forms of entertainment of the elite people of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, since the Mughal period. It became a festive tradition during the period of Nayeb-e-Nazim Nawajesh Mohammad Khan in the 1740s.

First flight

Jeanette Van Tassel, a young balloonist from the United States, was hired by the then incumbent Nawab Khwaja Ahsanullah. She was a member of a family troupe of professional balloonists and arrived with her mother, Jenny Rumary Van Tassel. At 6.20pm on the 16th March 1892, she set off to fly from the southern bank of the River Buriganga to the roof of Ahsan Manzil, lying across the river. But a gusting wind carried her off to the gardens of Shahbag, where her balloon became stuck in a tree. She was killed in her fall to the ground, and lies interred in the Christian graveyard at Narinda, Dhaka.

World War II

Modern aviation in Bangladesh began when the British Raj built a military airstrip in Tejgaon during World War II to fly warplanes towards the battle fields of Kohima and war theaters in Burma. Other airstrips were built in Comilla, Feni, Chittagong, Cox's Bazar, Chakaria, Sylhet, Jessore, Rajshahi and Lalmonirhat.

In August 1943, a South Asia Command was formed under Admiral Mountbatten, including the RAF Third Tactical Air Force (Third TAF), which launched the second Burma Campaign against the Empire of Japan in the December that year. The Royal Indian Airforce (RIAF), Indian part of the Royal Air Force played a crucial role by providing tactical reconnaissance and extensive close support to the army when a British Corps started advancing down the Arakan coast in January 1944.

In November 1943, 6 Squadron and later 8 Squadron were moved to Cox's Bazaar. By the end of February 1944, No 6 Squadron pilots had completed over 1,000 operational sorties, averaging 6 sorties a day per pilot, a record for the entire the Third TAF. Towards the end of March 1944, 4 Squadron joined the operations when it was moved first to Feni airfield, and then to Comilla in June to replace 6 Squadron.

In May, 9 Squadron was moved to Comilla after a brief spell of tactical reconnaissance duties supporting the battles of Imphal and Kohima. During August 1944, the two squadrons carried out intensive bombing of enemy positions in the Sangu river valley, specially for three consecutive days in Labawa to support an offensive by 81 Division to expel the Japanese from the area. By the end of December 1944, 10 Squadron had also been moved into the operational area at Ramu.

With the fall of Rangoon on 3rd May 1945, the operations in Burma were reduced to mopping up of small pockets of resistance. By the end of June most of the lAF's squadrons were withdrawn, leaving only 8 Squadron to assist in the mopping up.

Civil aviation

When the war was over, the colonial government decided to build the Tejgaon Airport along with a landing strip at Kurmitola to meet the needs of a Royal Indian Air Force (RIAF) station in Dhaka. In 1946, the Mirza Ahmad Ispahani and his partners formed an airline - Orient Airways - which soon started using the airport as a civil airport. Shifting its base from Kolkata to Karachi when Pakistan was born, Orient Airways started DC-3 flights from Karachi to Dhaka on 7 June 1954, forming a critical connection between the capitals of geographically separated East and West Pakistan. On March 11 1955, Orient Airways merged with the government's proposed airline, becoming Pakistan International Airlines Corporation, later rechristened as Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).

The Eastern Pakistan Flying Club was established in 1948. By 1960, British Airways and Pan American Airways had started operating flights out of Dhaka, PIA had started operating Boeing jet services, and new airports had been constructed at Jessore, Chittagong, Thakurgaon, Ishwardi, and Comilla. During the 1962 Sino-Indian War, services to East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) were proving to be difficult, therefore PIA placed their Sikorsky S-61 helicopters on these routes until 1966 when conditions improved. In the 1971 war, PIA aided the Pakistan Army by transporting soldiers to East Pakistan in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 and lost a couple of its aircraft to Indian Air Force fighters.. Between 10 and 13 March, immediately before the war started, Pakistan International Airlines cancelled all their international routes to urgently fly "Government Passengers" to Dhaka. These "Government Passengers" were almost all Pakistani soldiers in civilian dress.

Liberation War

During the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) fought had extensive engagements in the sky over Bangladesh. The first engagement was on 22 November over the Salient of Boyra in West Bengal.. In the process Tejgaon Airport suffered extensive damage.

Then, on the night of 3 December 1971, Canberra bombers of Eastern Air Command struck Tejgaon, which was guarded by PAF No. 14 squadron equipped with Sabre jets which lacked night fighting capability. By the morning of 4 December, strike missions against Tejgaon were assigned to 11 IAF squadrons, including Hunters of the No. 7 Squadron, No. 14 Squadron, No. 17 Squadron and No. 37 Squadron of IAF, as well as Su-7s of No. 221 Squadron and MiG-21s of No. 28 Squadron..

Throughout 4 and 5 December, IAF concentrated in attacking the aircraft on the ground. But, it failed to cause significant damage to the PAF assets in well-dispersed and camouflaged locations. By the evening of 5 December, the IAF changed tactics. On the morning of 6 December four MiG-21s (No. 28 Sqn), flying from Gauhati hit Tejgaon with 1000lber, scoring several hits on the runway. Kurmitola was attacked on the morning of 7 December, when Mig-21s of No. 28 Sqn again hit the runway. No. 7 Sqn was pulled out of the eastern ops on the 6 December to help the Indian Army in the west. Repeated attack by MiG-21s and Hunters of No. 14 and No.28 however, kept the runway cratered. The IAF assault effectively grounded the PAF in by 7 December, and No. 14 Squadron was taken out of the war.. The IAF also bombed other airfields including the abandoned WWII airfields of Comilla, Lalmanirhat and Shamsher Nagar through the war, denying their use to PAF.

On August 20, 1971 Flight Lieutenant Matiur Rahman attempted to pilot a T-33 trainer from Karachi, Pakistan to India in order to defect from the Pakistan Air Force and join the liberation movement of Bangladesh. However, Matiur could not take the plane out of Pakistani territory, as reportedly, Pilot Officer Rashid Minhas, the other pilot in the plane, forced it to crash in Thatta, a place near the Indian border. Matiur was awarded Bir Sreshtho and Minhas was awarded Nishan-E-Haider, respectively the highest military honors in Bangladesh and Pakistan, and both has air bases named after them, respectively in Jessore and Kamra.


Bangladesh Air Force

Bangladesh Air Force was formed at Dimapur, Nagaland, India on 28 September 1971 under the command of Air Commodore AK Khondakar (later Air Vice Marshal and Chief of Air Staff, Bangladesh Air Force). At that time, the embryo of Bangladesh Air Force (BAF) was formed as 'Kilo Flight' to assist the Mukti Bahini (Freedom Fighters). Initially, 'Kilo Flight' consisted of three aircraft (given by Indian Air Force), 09 officers and 47 airmen. Squadron Leader Sultan Mahmud (retired as Air Vice Marshal and Chief of the Air Staff of BAF) was appointed as the commander of the 'Kilo Flight'. After having some basic training on air to ground weapon delivery, 'Kilo Flight' successfully bombed Fuel storage in Chittagong and Narayangonj area and thus the journey of BAF had commenced. During the last phase of the Bangladesh Liberation War the newly formed Bangladesh Air Force carried out 12 successful attack missions over Pakistani targets.

After liberation in 1971, the Bangladesh Air Force received equipment from the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China, a clutch of MiG-21s, An-24s, An-26s, and Mi-4 helicopters. In 1995 the Bangladesh Air Force made its largest purchase from the U.S to date in the form of 12 T-37 jet trainers. More recently, Bangladesh procured four C-130B Hercules transport aircraft(from old US Air Force stock).

National airlines

The first Bangladeshi commercial passenger airline, Biman Bangladesh Airlines, was born in 1972 soon after the independence of Bangladesh. As the national flag carrier, Biman operated as a monopoly for over two decades and was fully owned by the Bangladesh government.

It started operations with a Douglas DC-3 gifted by the Bangladesh Air Force, which was a veteran of World War II. In the 1980s it expanded its fleet with the purchase of Douglas DC-10s which still operate to this day, along with Airbus A310s which were acquired in the late 90s and early part of the 21st century. In its 35 year history, it has suffered a multitude of accidents with many aircraft having been written off, especially in regard to its domestic fleet consisting of Fokker F27 & BAe ATPs.

Corruption at all levels of management and a sub-standard service have hindered the airline significantly to the extent that it has had to cut back on many destinations during 2007. This has enabled new private airlines to startup and existing ones to gain footholds in countries which were previously not possible.

The future of the airline is in the balance with measures being taken in 2007 to turn it into a PLC and reduce its workforce to enable it to compete against other global carriers.

Incidents and accidents

Before independence, a PIA Douglas DC-3 crashed in Charlakhi Island in the Bay of Bengal, killing all the 20 passengers and four crew on 1 July 1957. a Cargolux Canadair CL-44 flight crashed into a farmhouse near Dhaka airport on take-off on 2 December 1970. 58 persons have died in 13 aircraft accidents in Bangladesh since the first post-independence on 10 February 1972 killing five crewmembers on board a Biman DC-3 flight.

On 4 August 1984, Biman faced its worst accident when a F-27 flying in from Chittagong crashed near Dhaka, killing all 49 on board including Captain Kaniz Fatema Roksana, the airline's first female pilot. Three pilots have died at Parabat Flying Academy in Dhaka - Moklesur Rahman Sakib (age 32), when his Cessna 150 (S2-AAM) crashed 7 June 2002, and Fareea Lara (age 26) and Syed Rafiqul Islam (age 24) in 27 September 1998, when they crashed at Postogola, Dhaka. On 8 June 2005, a Bangladeshi fighter trainee pilot of Bangladesh Air Force (BAF) crashed into a neighborhood on the outskirts of the capital, killing one person and injuring four others.

Japan Airlines Flight 472 was hijacked by the Japanese Red Army on September 28, 1977. The Douglas DC-8, en route from Paris to Haneda Airport in Tokyo with 156 people on board, stopped in Mumbai, India. Shortly after taking off from Mumbai, five armed JRA members hijacked the aircraft and ordered it flown to Dhaka, Bangladesh. At Dhaka, the hijackers took the passengers and crew hostage, demanding $6 million and the release of 9 imprisoned JRA members. A chartered JAL flight carried the money and 6 of the 9 imprisoned JRA members to Dhaka, where the exchange took place on October 2. The hijackers released 118 passengers and crew members, and all remaining hostages were freed later.


The Zia International Airport in Dhaka started operation in 1981. It is the home base and hub of Biman Bangladesh Airlines, GMG Airlines and United Airways (Bangladesh). Osmani International Airport in Sylhet was built during British rule as Sylhet Civil Airport, partly to check Japanese aggression from Burma. Biman Bangladesh Airlines earns most of its revenue from this airport.

Private airlines

Following is list of private airlines of Bangladesh.

Year Airline Type of service Type of Aircraft Status
1996 Aero Bengal Airlines Passenger service, Aeroplane service Y-12, Antonov An-24RV Defunct
1997 Mission Aviation Fellowship Sweden Aeroplane service DHC-3
1997 Air Parabat Flight training, Passenger service Y-12, LET-410, Antonov An-24, Antonov An-26 Defunct
1998 GMG Airlines Passenger service, Aeroplane Service MD-82,
Dash 8-100
1999 Bismillah Airlines Cargo service Antonov An-12B
1999 Youngone Private aircraft Cessna Grand Caravan
1999 Best Aviation Passenger Service, Helicopter service, Cargo service BK 117, Antonov An-26, Boeing 707, Boeing 737
2000 Air Maximus Cargo service Boeing 747
2000 Aero Technologies Helicopter service Eurocopter AS-350B
2005 Zoom Airways Passenger service, Aeroplane service BAe 748 Series 2B
2005 Air Bangladesh Passenger service, Aeroplane service Boeing 747-269B(SF) Defunct
2007 United Airways (Bangladesh) Passenger service, Aeroplane service Dash 8-100
2007 Royal Bengal Airline Passenger service, Aeroplane service Dash 8-100



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