Saturday, 22 September 2012

Biman DC-10 Adventure II - Dhaka Walkaround & Highlights of BG37

Green House Guesthouse, Dhaka

Greenhouse Guesthouse is located in the Baridhara Diplomatic Zone which is a gated community situated in the Gulshan district south of Dhaka’s Hazrat Shahjalal Airport. We had picked this hotel for our brief one night stay in Dhaka as a result of our friend’s recommendations and its relative proximity to the airport.

Although we had requested for twin rooms, only doubles were available when we had checked in and the basic room came furnished with a mosquito net above the bed and a working airconditioning unit. Each floor consists of a large apartment and shares a communal living room with a television, while each room is individually rented out. We shared our floor with a large South Asian family who had probably taken up a long term lease for the other two rooms. As with the rest of the city, blackouts were common during our short stay with the backup generator providing limited power. There is also free wifi available for guests.
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Each room also comes with a clean attached bathroom. However, no complimentary toiletries are provided and the water pressure for the shower is rather weak.
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Shared balcony overlooking the street. The other family had taken to using the grilles as a convenient laundry rack.
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View of the Baridhara Diplomatic Zone looking south from the balcony.
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With its fore limbs amputated due to an unfortunate accident, the guesthouse’s resident dog caught our attention and we had soon taken to calling it the “roo dog” due to its close resemblance to the kangaroo.
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Dhaka Walkaround - Gulshan District

Being the geographical centre and political capital of the country, a walk through the sun baked and dusty streets of Dhaka are a true assault on the senses. The gaudy colours, incessant honking and the fragrance of briyani intertwined with the city’s notorious pollution simply overwhelms in the scorching 36 degree afternoon heat. The fast growing metropolis struggles to keep up with the demands from its burgeoning 7 million strong population and gridlocked traffic jams are common even during off peak hours. As such, we decided to settle for a walkabout in the district near our guesthouse instead of heading downtown to the city’s famous sights in Old Dhaka and the banks of the Buriganga River which carries a very real risk of not being able to return to our hotel in time for the main highlight of our trip – a ride on the DC-10.

An absurdly low tree branch hung across the road near our hotel. We spent several minutes admiring in disbelief the steady stream of cars and MPVs which passed under the branch with mere inches to spare.
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A local gym had decided to ride on the popularity of the California Fitness chain of fitness centres.
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Walking towards the west, we encountered the gates which lead to road 12 of the Baridhara Diplomatic Zone (right). Our taxi had attempted to enter the zone last night from this gate but was firmly turned away by the guards who explained that the gate is closed to vehicular traffic after 6pm every day for security reasons. Kalanchandpur Main Road (left) provides a bypass road to the main road and skirts around the northern fringe of the gated community.
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Affectionately referred to as 'CNGs', these vehicles are close cousins of the tuk tuk in Thailand and bajaj in Indonesia and offer a quick means of getting around the city as the drivers make full use of its compact size to squeeze through gaps in the gridlocked traffic and the narrow backlanes. However, one must first overcome the claustrophobia of being locked in a grilled metal cage for the duration of the ride and the doors can only be unlocked by the driver as a possible safeguard against fare evasion.
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For the less adventurous, one can opt for the throngs of rickshaws which can be seen in all corners of the city throughout the day. The colourful rickshaws add on to the explosion of colours in the city as the owners sought to differentiate their vehicle with gaudy paintings of popular Bangla movie scenes and mythical spiritual beings.
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Despite labouring under the intense afternoon sun, the sociable Bangladeshi rickshaw peddlers never fail to smile for cameras!
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One of the many provision shops in the vicinity of our hotel. The choice of the name for the shop is certainly an interesting one as pork is definitely not a halal item in a country where the majority of the population are devout Muslims.
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A mobile pushcart selling fruits by the roadside. Even though there are a large number of foreigners residing in the Gulshan district, we still managed to attract a fair bit of attention wherever we went with our cameras and photo taking!
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Makeshift drinks stall provide an informal gathering place for locals to take a break from their hectic day and enjoy a hot cup of coffee or 'cha'.
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The serene surroundings of Gulshan Lake provide a temporary respite from the hustle and bustle of the surrounding streets. The windless afternoon also provided a created a mirror like water surface upon which the near cloudless blue skies was reflected on.
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In a primitive form of a transport hub, hoards of rickshaws camp for potential passengers transferring from the buses along the northbound Shaheed Shuhra Wardi Ave to ferry them to their final destinations. This was very much like the 'motorcycle taxis' in Bangkok, except it was very much more chaotic with masses of humanity, rickshaws, buses and cars moving together in a totally dynamic and random fashion.
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Friendly Bangladeshis on one of the many crowded public buses. The number of scratches on the side panel of the buses certainly reflect the driving conditions in the crowded city.
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Despite the huge passenger demand, the private operators in Dhaka prefer operating these short non-aircon TATA midibuses instead of full length citybuses. Many of the public buses also have missing side mirrors! Unfortunately, we did not spot any of the government operated Ashok Leyland double deck buses during our short stay in Dhaka as we did not venture into the city centre.
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A proper full length citybus was also photographed working on route 30. The orange plastic seats and bodywork seem to suggest that this example might be an ex Chinese Flxible citybus before it was exported to Bangaldesh.
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It is a regular sight to see passengers riding on the roof of public buses in Dhaka. One definitely wonders how these passengers manage to get onboard the roof given the absence of any ladders on the bus! A myriad of cargo ranging from construction supplies to gleaming Briyani pots are also often carried on the roofs.
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Front engined non airconditioned Hino AK coaches form the backbone of the basic long distance bus services in Bangladesh. These rugged chassis with leaf spring suspension are ideally suited to the harsh environment that the buses operate in on a daily basis.
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A brightly coloured truck caught our attention in the congested street near our hotel.
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After the brief exploration of the surrounding environs, we slipped through a discreetly concealed side gate which transported us from the bustling evening street market along Kalanchandpur Main Road back into the surreal calm of the Baridhara Diplomatic Zone.

Flash floods are common during torrential downpours that drench the capital city from March to October each year. Certain road sections remain muddy even though the last downpour was 2 days ago!
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Proper taxis are a relatively rare sight in Dhaka as CNGs, rickshaws and private cars-turned-taxis vastly outnumbered them. An elderly taxi driver attends to a mechanical problem of his light blue Maruti Suzuki 800. The Maruti 800 is a rebadged version of the Suzuki Fronte manufactured by the Indian subsidiary of the Japanese automobile manufacturer. The 800 designation refers to the 796 cc F8B MPFI I3 engine fitted in the car.
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Manual workers laboured in the warm afternoon with the simplest of all construction equipment - their body. It was morbidly fascinating to watch this worker stacking and balancing a load of bricks on top of his head before walking back into the depths of the construction project. Wheelbarrows and pulley systems were a luxury.
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One of us happened to meet his friend who had temporarily relocated to Dhaka on a project and it was a sheer coincidence that he stayed in the same area near our hotel. We decided to have dinner together and had a leisurely walk down Park Road. Aided by a slight breeze and lit by the soft glow of the setting evening sun, a reddish and seemingly impenetrable haze of swirling dust particles hung in the air.
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Excellent Chicken Butter Masala (450Tk / S$7) at Asia Pacific Hotel, Baridhara Diplomatic Zone, Gulshan District. The Coca-Cola can had also been produced locally in Bangladesh
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After walking back to our hotel along the dark streets and avoiding the numerous mud patches and potholes, we bundled into a Toyota van which the hotel had arranged for our transport to the airport for the continuation of our Biman DC-10 adventure. The journey through the grid locked main road was further complicated by a closed level crossing for a passenger express train to pass through and we were eventually dropped off at the departure level of the international terminal after 30mins. The map below shows the route taken by our taxi from the airport with the numerous detours (blue line) as well as the more direct route taken by the van to the airport (red line). Map copyright Google Maps

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BG37 Dhaka to Chittagong

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Date: Friday, 07 Sep 12
Aircraft: S2-ACP / McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30
Seats: 28J
Departure Gate: 2

Scheduled Departure Time: 2345 LT
Boarding Time: 0024 LT
Push Back: 0029 LT (delay of 44 mins)
Takeoff: 0037 LT on runway 14
Cruise Altitude: 15,000 ft

Scheduled Arrival Time: 0030 LT
Touchdown: 0108 LT on runway 23
Actual Arrival Time: 0114 LT (delay of 44 mins)
Arrival Gate: 1

Check-In

Biman Bangladesh BG37 operates between Dhaka and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia via the southern Bangladeshi port city of Chittagong. Although we were only travelling on the domestic sector between Dhaka and Chittagong, we were unsure of which terminal to check-in from and thus proceeded to the international departure row where we were further directed to the domestic terminal. When we enquired for additional directions from a passing airport police, he surprised us by escorting us to the obscure pair of lifts located at the southern end of the international terminal building instead of simply pointing in the general direction.

The domestic terminal is a simple one storey building located beside the main international building and after following the signs that landed us in the baggage claim hall for domestic flight, we were then requested to exit the building and re-enter the building through another entrance where we had our luggage scanned through the X-ray machine for a second time.

As it was early, the check-in counter for our flight had yet to open and we were informed that it would only open at 11pm. Thus, we decided to settle down at the metal benches and take advantage of the free wifi available in the terminal to surf the net. Each airline has its own check-in desks with customised decor at the clean and simple check-in hall and we were amused to find that the check-in desks for Best Air and GMG Air were still around as they had been grounded.
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The hours dragged past and the check-in opened for the earlier BG 21 flight to Muscat via Chittagong. This flight is operated by a B737-800 and was delayed due to late arrival of the aircraft. It was also a sight to behold as the luggage for the flight were simply tagged and pushed to join the pile of luggage at the side of the check-in desk. The check-in luggage would be shoved through a ragged hole cut in the wall where the airline staff on the other side of the wall would bring out to the aircraft.
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We further enquired about the status of our flight and was told that they would check-in for our flight after they had completed the check-in for the earlier BG21 flight. One of us decided to check Singapore's icargo.net portal and noted that BG85 from Singapore was running 5 hours behind schedule, and would probably turn around as BG21 upon arrival at Dhaka.

Amplified by the confines of the small domestic terminal, the drone of the construction works in the terminal had us checking our watches and hoping that the pile of luggage destined for BG21 would be cleared soon enough so that the check-in for our flight could proceed. The FIDS was also of very limited use as it was permanently stuck at 20:15hrs.

Much to our relief, the airport staff started to move the pile of baggage and we attempted to request to be checked for BG37. It became increasingly worrying as it was way past the retimed departure time for BG21 and passengers were still being checked in for the flight! After submitting our e-tickets, we were provided boarding passes for BG21 instead of BG37.

"Erm we want to fly on BG37, not BG21 to Chittagong."

"Today BG37 no flying. BG21 fly Chittagong same place."

"No, but is BG37 operating today? Or it flies Dhaka to Jeddah direct and skip Chittagong? We want to fly the DC-10".

"No No not flying since very long. BG21 fly. Go Chittagong then Muscat. Boeing 737 big plane very good".

The conversation between us and the check-in agent continued on with no definite conclusion and we decided to return our boarding passes for BG21. Meanwhile, some of us started to contemplate if it might be a wasted trip and it might be better for us to remain in Dhaka as we were unlikely to get a DC-10 on BG38 the next day if BG37 was not operating. Two of us also elected to head to the international terminal to confirm if it was indeed true that BG37 was not operating. We attempted to return via the same way we had came to get to the international terminal but we were directed to take a lengthy detour outdoors via the departure up ramp instead. By now, it was already 2330hrs.

Upon reaching the check-in desk for Biman Bangladesh Airlines at the international terminal, we immediately approached an agent at the end of the desk who confirmed that BG37 was operating to Jeddah via Chittagong and check-in had closed for the flight. He advised us to hurry back to the domestic terminal and request to be checked in.

Rushing back to the domestic terminal through the now-familiar route via the lifts, the check-in agent turned his back on us and disappeared back into his office. Meanwhile, the check-in for BG21 had been closed. One of us had noticed a signboard beside the check-in desk which lists the contact number for the station manager on duty. We decided to give it a shot and the call was answered shortly after by the duty station manager. After explaining that we had flown to Bangladesh specifically to fly on the DC-10 and were refused check-in at the domestic terminal for BG37, the station manager explained that passengers were transferred to BG21 as it was operated by a more reliable Boeing 737. However, he was accommodating and said that it was possible for us to fly on BG37 with the condition that the airline will hold take no responsibility for any delays that might arise. Following our verbal acceptance, the station manager requested to speak with the check-in agent.

What happened in the next 30 mins was nothing short of amazing as a flurry of activity descended upon the quiet domestic terminal. We were called to the desk to check-in for BG37 and the check-in agent, whose mood had noticeably soured after the fateful conversation with the station manager, furiously hammered at his keyboard to undo the previously enacted flight transfers to BG21.

A bittersweet moment to be able to finally hold this boarding pass with the correct flight number printed on it. The check-in agent had (possibly in a deliberate attempt) issued us aisle or middle seats. However, the flight appeared to be empty from the sequence number printed on the boarding pass and it seemed that there were only 70 passengers on the flight which is less than a quarter of the total carrying capacity.
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As we only had one piece of check-in luggage with us, we were requested to bring it along with us and it would be handed over to the ground staff at the aircraft to be placed in the luggage hold. Another airline staff hurried us through security into the deserted boarding hall after an elderly security staff stamped the back of our boarding passes to indicate that the luggage had been screened.

Exiting through the back of the boarding hall and after a brisk walk to the apron, we collectively held our breaths and were relieved to see S2-ACP 'City of Dhaka' being prepared for her flight at Gate 2. The photo below was taken 5 years ago at Singapore Changi Airport when these majestic 'tri-holers' were still regular visitors. Originally delivered to Singapore Airlines on 03 March 1979 as 9V-SDD (l/n 275), she was sold to Biman Bangladesh Airlines on 09 August 1983 and had been flying for the airline ever since.
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Scaling up a flight of stairs to the departure level and down the aerobridge, we were welcomed by the cabin crew and directed to our seats. We could not help but smiled when one of the female air stewardess remarked that we must be the group who were getting off the flight at Chittagong.

Even after reading through numerous trip reports and seeing photos of the famously dated cabin of Biman's DC-10, it was still a sight to behold with the period floral prints on the seat and the warm incandescent cabin lighting as compared to the harsh and clinical white fluorescent lights used on the modern aircraft types today. It certainly felt like stepping back in time into a flying time capsule where IFE systems and fanciful sculpted ceiling panels were nothing but a lustful dream then.

The cabin was largely empty as we had predicted and after grabbing a window seat each, the cabin doors were closed and packets of the airline's famed Starship mango juice were distributed to the passengers. The empty packets were collected back as pushback was commenced and the three General Electric CF6-50C2 turbofan engines were spooled up.

My attempt to photograph the manual safety demonstration earned a sharp rebuke from an elderly stewardess who issued a stern warning that no photography of the cabin interior is allowed. With all the safety and functional checks completed, our aircraft taxiied towards runway 14 for departure and we passed by the Biman Bangladesh hangar which is located next to the terminal. There were two DC-10s in the hangar which looked to be in an airworthy condition and further research indicated that they might be S2-ACO "City of Shah Makhdum (R.A.)" and S2-ACR "New Era". S2-ACO was also a former Singapore Airlines aircraft (9V-SDB, l/n 263) while S2-ACR was the second last DC-10 to be built and was delivered new to the airline in December 1988.

A white DC-10 was also spotted outside the hangar and is likely to be S2-ACS (l/n 341) which was painted white and returned to the leasing company in 2008. However, it was abandoned at Dhaka and cannibalised for spares. A separate white Tristar was parked beside the DC-10 and was likely to be a former Sky Capital Airlines aircraft (S2-AKB and currently re-registered as 3C-MIA).

Power was applied to the engine as the aircraft made the turn onto runway 14 and the lightly loaded aircraft rocketed down the runway and climbed steeply into the clear night sky. S2-ACP had been recently returned into service after her engines were overhauled in Germany and they were exceptionally smooth. Contrary to popular opinion, the engine noise was not uncomfortably loud at the rear of the cabin during cruise as compared to other modern airliners. The video below shows the complete footage from commencement of pushback to after takeoff.



Cabin view from seat 28J. S2-ACP is configured with 314 economy class seats with a 2-5-2 layout in 3 cabins. Note the bulky four gun projector mounted across the front block of middle seats.
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Armrest controls. The 2 spring loaded switches at the left control the overhead reading lights and the attendant call button respectively. The in-seat audio controls comprise of a rotary dial to adjust the volume while the notched dial below it allows one to select from one of the 12 available channels. Single pin 3.5mm audio connectors on aircraft were also unheard of then! Given the age of the aircraft, it was perhaps not surprising that none of the abovementioned controls functioned.
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Composite photo of the front and rear cover of the adequately illustrated Biman Bangladesh Airlines DC-10 safety card. Of particular interest are the seat back location of the oxygen mask and generator unit on the middle row of seats on the DC-10. This had been relocated to the overhead passenger service unit on the MD-11.
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Composite photo of the inside fold of the Biman DC-10 safety card. The life vests are located either behind a panel on the seat back or under the seat. The location of the life vests had also been standardised with the advent of the MD-11.
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Before long, the aircraft commenced its descent into Chittagong's Shah Amanat Airport runway 23. The lights from the city's infamous ship scrapyards flashed past the windows shortly before the wheels of our DC-10 contacted the runway and the reversers were deployed with hard braking. After making a U-turn at the end of the 2,940m runway, we backtracked along the runway to the small terminal building and cabin announcements were made to remind passengers who were headed for Jeddah to remain onboard during the hour long turnaround.

Our aircraft docked at one of the two aerobridge equipped gates at the terminal and we made use of the delay for the cabin crew to raise the L2 exit door to obtain a few more photos of the dated cabin interior.
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We were the only passengers on board to get off the flight at Chittagong and another airline staff was on hand to guide us to the arrival hall. While walking through the length of the terminal to the domestic section, we noted a large number of passengers who would be boarding the flight for the onward sector to Jeddah. Retrieval of our sole luggage was quick and it was soon wheeled into the arrival hall by the baggage handling staff.

Words could hardly describe what it felt like to have finally accomplished our goal to fly the DC-10 (which at the time of our flight, was the sole operational DC-10 in passenger revenue service in the world).

Well Park Hotel, Chittagong

We had little problem locating the driver for our hotel pick-up after exiting the arrival hall and we were guided to a well maintained Toyota van for the drive to our hotel located in the centre of the city. As compared to the broad 4 lane carriageway that connect Dhaka's Hazrat Shahjalal airport to the city, we drove through narrow asphalt roads in the countryside and witnessed a narrow gauge railway that serviced the adjacent shipyard.

Reception area of Well Park Hotel. The hotel was well staffed even though it was past midnight and we were offered a glass of orange juice each as a welcome drink.
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We had reserved the Oriental Suite where all of us could be comfortably accommodated for the night while staying close to each other. The suite consists of an unsecured central dining area and living room, while the individual rooms are secured via a contactless card lock.
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Interior of a twin room. The Oriental Suite comes with 2 twin rooms and a single room. A fruit basket and tea making facilities were also provided in each room.
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Next Post: Biman DC-10 Adventure III - Chittagong, Highlights of BG38 and TR2655

Previous Post: Biman DC-10 Adventure I - Highlights of AK720 & BG87

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