DHAKA – Gusty winds of global economic recession has pushed a number of foreign airlines either near to pack up or downsize their operations from Bangladesh, leaving the country’s travel industry in grim situation, industry insiders said on Monday.

Secretary General of the Association of Travel Agents of Bangladesh (ATAB) AKM Bari said on Monday that passengers’ movement to and from Bangladesh plummeted to around 2.7 million in 2008, from 3.3 million in 2007.

He estimated that the average air traffic would slide at least 14 percent in 2009 from that of last year. A number of some 20 foreign airlines, operating flights from Bangladesh, seemed either to go for pack up or downsize their operations, he said.

The UAE-based carrier RAK Airways, which entered Bangladesh market in 2007, has already shutdown its operations in the country following declining demand due to the global financial meltdown.

Singapore Airlines, one of the world’s leading airlines, has announced to downsize number of flights to five from seven weekly from mid-February while Thai Airlines suspended one flight connecting Bangladesh’s southeastern port city Chittagong and Bangkok.

Officials of both the airlines accused of global economic slowdown as reason of such decisions of their authorities.

The cut in flights came at a time when the International Air Transport Association feared that the Asia Pacific carriers will be hard hit with more than doubling of losses to 1.1 billion U.S. dollars in 2009 from 500 million U.S. dollars in 2008.

It said these Asia Pacific carriers account for nearly a third of global passengers traffic and 45 percent of the global cargo market.

Besides, according to local media, British Airways would suspend its Dhaka-London-Dhaka passenger flights from March this year as the carrier’s profit ability on the route went down.

Saudi Airlines, the leading Arab carrier, may also go to cut one third of its passenger flights between Dhaka and the Kingdom’s major cities from April this year as passengers’ traffic slid, local reports said.

The number of its passengers, mostly Bangladesh’s overseas workers, fell on the back of a freeze on Saudi Arabia’s manpower recruitment from Bangladesh.

The ATAB secretary general Bari said, basically, the global economic meltdown has been the main reason behind the pullout of foreign airlines, directly or indirectly.

He said Bangladesh’s aviation industry which boomed following growth in overseas employment in last few years may face setback if the manpower export declines sharply as the Middle Eastern countries downsized their development activities amid the financial slowdown.

Shahana Pervin, an official of the Emirates Airlines, said the carrier’s air traffic movement from Bangladesh to Middle Eastern countries dropped to some extent. “We’re offering lucrative packages to woo more passengers,” he said.

Following such a grim situation, a large number of Bangladeshis working with different foreign airlines are worried of loosing jobs.

“We’re worried whether we’re going to lose our jobs as our company is also reducing flights,” said a Bangladeshi flight steward of a foreign air carrier.

Bari said foreign airlines’ decision to downsize or pack up operations will not only cause plight to passengers, particularly millions of Bangladeshis living and working abroad, but also affect the business of the country’s over 1,400 travel agencies.