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Tuesday,  July 16, 2002

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Earthquake hazard: Creating public awareness in Bangladesh

Dr. Aftab Alam Khan and Md. Abdul Hoque

The Daily Star

Bangladesh is extremely vulnerable to earthquake activities.An extensive seismological observatory network must be set-up in Bangladesh equipped with the modern and sensitive earthquake monitoring facilities. This includes strainmeters, accelerometers, velocity and displacement seismographs. Monitoring facilities of micro-seismicity and on-line real-time seismological facilities must be introduced. Highly sensitive seismographs with all components of recording system must be installed for continuous monitoring and for valid prediction.

Earthquakes are caused by the explosion or the release of accumulated strain due to various stress-fields in the earth's materials. Earthquakes have been a source of terror and wonder for as long as people have inhabited the earth. Terror stands for unexpected, sudden-onset of earthquake events those are capable of producing many casualties among the local population and massive destruction of property, while it is a wonder because people are awe-struck by the forces of nature that suddenly disrupt the environment and alter the surface of the planet. Earthquakes are one of the major natural hazards threatening life, property, and economic well being in many nations. Death tolls from major events can be sighted as 255,000 in Tangshan, China in 1976 and 10,000 in Mexico City in 1985. The economic loss in the 1995 Kobe, Japan, earthquake was more than U.S.$100 billion. Nations striving for full economic development may find the investments and progress of decades wiped out in a few minutes. Vis-a-vis the devastation or the loss of lives and economy due to an earthquake in developed countries like China and Japan where the advancement of earthquake research is quite appreciable, it is needless to say that a catastrophic condition will emerge if a large magnitude earthquake occurs in an earthquake prone country like Bangladesh. Inquiring minds have long sought to understand the processes responsible for this violent activity. The reasons for the unawareness about potential earthquakes are the lack of systematic monitoring and follow up of trends of seismicity and micro-seismic events. An overall scenario of earthquake events in and around Bangladesh lends support to a vulnerable situation and it is recommended that some relevant steps must be taken to ameliorate the public awareness.

Earthquakes are related to faulting and tectonic instability of an area. Signifying the movement along a fault, it is written in the Bible-Zechariah 14:4, " The Mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north and half of it toward the south". It is very clear from this statement that an impending devastation would occur along an active fault movement. The overall tectonics and the nature of fault movement within Bangladesh and the adjoining region are conducive for the frequent and recurring earthquakes. Threatened earthquake disaster inside Bangladesh may also be expected from active fault zones outside the national boundary.

Tsunami is the terrific tidal wave caused by the underwater earthquakes, which usually strikes the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. Bay of Bengal including Java trench in the southeast of Bay of Bengal have also such seismogenic potentiality because more than twenty earthquake events have so far been recorded in the Bay of Bengal in recent years. Hence, the possibilities of tsunami in the Bay of Bengal cannot be ruled out.

A good background of historical earthquake information is essential to evaluate the seismicity. Information on earthquake events in and around Bangladesh is available for the last 250 years. The earthquakes those affected Bangladesh and its surroundings including the historical earthquakes are in records from 1664 till today. The earthquake record suggests that more than 100 moderate to large earthquakes occurred inside Bangladesh since 1900, out of which more than 65 events occurred after 1960. More than 125 earthquake events have occurred in and around Bangladesh since the beginning of the new millennium. Of which about 27 events of magnitude ranging 4 to 5 have occurred inside Bangladesh. Fifteen new epicentres have been identified inside Bangladesh since January 2001. This clearly indicates an increased frequency of earthquakes in Bangladesh. The increase in earthquake activity in Bangladesh is an indication of fresh tectonic activity or the propagation of fractures from the adjacent seismic zones. Although Bangladesh is extremely vulnerable to seismic activity, the nature and the level of this activity is very poorly defined. The main constraint is the earthquake observational and monitoring facilities, which is totally absent in Bangladesh.

A quantitative assessment of earthquake events in Bangladesh reveals that the annual rate of strain (4.5 X 1021 ergs) accumulation corresponds to M = 6.5 and enough strain to the tune of 2.5 X 1023 ergs is already accumulated for an earthquake of magnitude M > 7.5. The study further suggests that the present accumulated strain to the tune of 2.5 X 1023 ergs is likely to precipitate an earthquake greater than magnitude 7.5 should a single event occurs with plausible time forecast of between years 1993 and 2005. The probability of occurrence and the return period calculations of the major earthquakes in Bangladesh suggest that the probability of occurrence of 6.8 and 7.4 magnitude earthquakes are 98 and 99 percent respectively with return periods 50 and 100 years respectively. The ground surface acceleration (g) in the various seismic zones of Bangladesh has been calculated and it ranges from 0.15g to as high as 0.6g in the epicentral region of a recurred earthquake located in that zone. All these findings lend support to conclude that all the earthquake source parameters are vulnerable to severe earthquake in Bangladesh.

The recurrence of earthquakes in an earthquake prone region cannot be prevented. Rather, what could be done is only to make a prediction and issue warning to minimise loss of lives and property. Although precise prediction is not always possible, an acceptable valid prediction of an earthquake will certainly minimise the loss of lives and property. A valid prediction depends on four essential elements. Earthquake disaster mitigation approach involves a) pre-disaster planning, b) building measures, and c) management. Pre-disaster planning involves measures at physical planning level, assessment of potential risk zones, assessment of potential man-made risk zones, land-use pattern, infrastructural network, safety standards and norms, building shape, height, and group, and evacuation and emergency preparedness. Building measures involve damage rating, building code, and a seismic design and practice. The management involves both pre-disaster and post-disaster administrative principles, implementation of building code, relocation, and mass awareness both for pre-disaster preparedness and post-disaster management.

Bangladesh is extremely vulnerable to earthquake activities. Four zones have been identified as the severest zones in Bangladesh in terms of maximum ground surface acceleration and the probable movements of the deep-seated crustal faults and lineaments. The severest zones include northern part of Dinajpur, Rangpur, Mymensingh, Sylhet, Tangail, northern part of Dhaka, Khulna, Jessore, Kushtia, and Chittagong. 1885 earthquake of Manikganj, 1897 earthquake of Great Assam, 1918 earthquake of Srimangal, 1930 earthquake of Dhubri, and 1950 earthquake of Assam all are quite matured to recur any time and may create devastation in Bangladesh. An extensive seismological observatory network must be set-up in Bangladesh equipped with the modern and sensitive earthquake monitoring facilities. This includes strainmeters, accelerometers, velocity and displacement seismographs. Monitoring facilities of micro-seismicity and on-line real-time seismological facilities must be introduced. Highly sensitive seismographs with all components of recording system must be installed for continuous monitoring and for valid prediction.

Dr Aftab Alam Khan is Associate Professor and Convenor, Geohazard Research Group and Md Abdul Hoque is a Bose Fellow, Department of Geology, University of Dhaka.

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Turbulent winds likely to hit Biman

by Raquib Siddiqi , The Independent

Biman is surely heading towards another bout with turbulent head winds if immediate action is not taken to improve fleet dependability. Old and unreliable fleet still haunt national flag carrier Biman Bangladesh Airlines even after three decades.

Management and fleet are the two vital areas of any airline and efficiency of both greatly contributes to success. But unfortunately, these two areas are the weakest in Biman.

2001 can be described as the year of misfortune for Biman. Two efforts, initiated to strengthen two perennially weakest areas of the airline-management and fleet, fizzled out after showing early promises. The first and most important of the two efforts was restructuring of Biman with finding Strategic Partner. The other one was modernisation of fleet with new generation aircraft. Improvement of both these areas was long overdue. Because of improper management inadequate and unreliable fleet were troubling the airline right from its birth.

The journey of Biman Bangladesh Airlines began with no aircraft and no ancillary facilities. All it had was manpower of 2,400- skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled-former employees of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), and an incomplete building in Dhaka.

Absence of aircraft and massive shortage of fund had a crippling effect on the newborn national airline of a war ravaged newborn country. As a result, its struggle for survival began right from the word go. The many uncertainties along the way sometimes created an atmosphere verging on abject frustration. But Biman showed resilience and fought hard to keep its nose up and ride over a number of severe adverse situations.

However, the potential of Biman can be judged from the fact that despite severe operational limitations and practically no freedom in decision-making, Biman has not performed that badly. Had there been no control, things would have been much better.

There is no doubt and dispute that freedom of operation is required for any airline-big or small-to make them strong and capable of meeting new challenges head-on. Less freedom and more control means turning a potential airline weak and dependent on more protection. Unfortunately, Biman is a classic example of such an airline.

Until the recent years, national airlines all over the world used to be regarded as important flag bearer for countries concerned and as physical demonstration of a country's achievements in technology and progress. Biman also enjoyed such status. But due to poor management, which resulted in inefficiency and negative image, the airline has failed to bring pride for the people.

A vibrant, successful airline operation will almost certainly count state-of-the-art equipment and fleet among its most vital assets. Incidentally, currently this is the weakest point of Biman..

Modernisation of Fleet

The history of Biman is the history of its sufferings in the absence of perspective planning and enough dependable fleet for smooth and unhindered operation. Unlike in the past, for the first time in it's nearly three decades history couple of years ago it took initiative to replace the ageing aircraft before the situation became too critical and operation of services too hazardous.

The airline decided to phase-out its four DC-10-30 aircraft and replaces those with new generation higher capacity aircraft of 300-350 seats to operate mainly on long-haul destinations. Accordingly, it has invited offers only from manufacturers, owners, operators, airlines, and leasing or financial institutions having aircraft of its own for Operating Lease/Lease Purchase/Lease with option to purchase four A340-300 or Boeing 777-200ER aircraft and in response received 10 offers.

The aircraft were to be delivered in 2-class configuration identical to Biman Bangladesh Airlines livery according to phase-in and phase-out programme. At present the airline operates to 25 international destinations across three continents. These destinations are mainly served by DC-10-30 aircraft with 274-seat capacity-30 Business Class and 244 Economy Class.

Each aircraft will be leased for a period of 10 years and the delivery of the four aircraft will be required to be made in three phases. In the Phase-I two aircraft-A340-300 or B777-200ER-to be delivered in first year on wet lease and during the period wet lease to be converted into dry lease. With the delivery of first two aircraft, two DC-10-30 of Biman to be phased out, under a trade-in/trade-out, arrangement.

In the Phase-II, third aircraft to be delivered in second year on dry lease. On delivery of the third aircraft, the third DC-10-30 of Biman to be phased out, under a trade-in/trade-out arrangement.

In the Phase-III, fourth aircraft to be delivered in the third year on dry lease. On delivery of the fourth aircraft, the fourth DC-10-30 of Biman to be phased out under a trade-in/trade-out arrangement.

All the four aircraft should be identical and must conform to Biman's specifications concerning engines and configuration; allay and service equipment; maintenance assistance; spares and tools; manuals; warranty; operational performance; financial terms and conditions; mode of payment; insurance; cockpit crew and operational crew cost; cabin crew training and general conditions.

Offers could be made both for brand new aircraft or used ones. In case of used aircraft, acceptable year of manufacture would be 1995 or later.

As per financial terms and conditions, total price for Biman's four DC-10-30 aircraft is to be quoted along with the schedule of payment and adjustment. Price quoted for the four DC-10-30 is to be used for the Down Payment, Rentals and Maintenance Reserve of Leased Aircraft on diminishing balance method. Biman will not make any Down Payment or pay for Rental, Maintenance Reserve in cash for the leased aircraft until the value of Biman's DC-10-30 aircraft is adjusted in full.

However, the Lessor might offer his own terms and mode of payments considering the agreed/quoted value of Biman's four DC-10-30 aircraft.

The seller or lessor were required to provide 12 sets of Cockpit Crew, including at least four Training and Check Captains at its own cost. In addition, the seller or lessor will also be required to provide conversion and familiarization training of 12 sets-each set consists of 15-cabin crew- of Biman's cabin crew and two instructors.

From the bitter experience of the past, the steps to modernize the fleet of Biman's international sector must be viewed with positive note and receive universal acclaim.

The Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism, which was taking active interest in this regard argued that increase in capacity of Biman and improvement of its schedule regularity, are a must. There is need to replace the present DC-10-30 fleet and induct higher capacity new generation aircraft, before the situation turns critical. With no Strategic Partner in sight, the time has come to act immediately.

Schedule & Cost: In addition to capacity constraints, the dependability of the current international fleet has also been considerably reduced. Technical delays and breakdown on the route has become more frequent and regular feature.

Apart from frequent delays and breakdown of services, maintenance and operational cost of old aircraft is also comparatively very high. The operating cost of DC-10-30 is, according to an estimate, US dollar 1000 more per block hour than the new generation aircraft (not precisely known whether the comparison is with A340-300 or B777-200ER or both).

It was calculated that if the new generation aircraft are utilized 10 hours each per day, each aircraft will save US dollar 3,00,000 per month. Thus, four new generation aircraft will save Biman US dollar 1.2 million per month in operating cost alone. In addition, new aircraft and higher capacity are expected to generate higher revenue as well as much better schedule regularity.

Unfortunately, however, after receiving offers, the management of Biman in general and the ministry in particular suddenly decided to shelve the plan. No formal announcement in this regard was made. It is learnt, with election approaching, the previous government thought it proper to shelve the matter. The first attempt to overcome two great weaknesses of Biman has failed. But efforts must be renewed without much delay for the greater interest of the national flag carrier. It is heartening to learn that, the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism has shown interest in this regard and asked management of Biman to activate the dormant offers it received in response to the international tenders. Action must be made as soon as possible, because unless something is done without delay, sufferings of the airline will continue and likely to developed into a serious crisis.

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Some more information

Accident of Air Parabat training aircraft

by Capt. A Muzaffar, The Independent

I have read the article "A different view ( Accident of Air Parabat training aircraft)" by Capt. Badrul Alam, Bir Uttam published in The Independent on July 9, 2002 regarding my article about the fatal accident of Air Parabat training aircraft on June 7, 2002.

Capt. Badrul Alam mentioned that the Met Department had informed the Air Traffic Controller on June 8, 2002 that the weather was good, but the accident occurred on June 7, 2002 and not on June 8, 2002. It is evident that the weather developed very quickly which is normal for Nor'westers (Kalbaishaki), in this time of the early Monsoon in Bengal.

That is why an instructor of the Flying Club should have been present at the airport with R/T (Radio Telephony) or at the control tower to guide the ab-initio pilot. It is also clear that the trainee pilot was not properly briefed about the air traffic rules to follow the directives of the air traffic controller (ATC), unless it is necessary to disregard the instruction of the controller to avoid an accident or incident. It is mandatory under civil aviation law that an under-trainee pilot is well conversant about air traffic rules before one is sent solo (independent flight). From the article of Capt. Badrul it is again established that the unfortunate trainee pilot Saqueeb did not follow the instruction of ATC as evident from the report that the other student pilot shouted over radio to Saqueeb requesting him not to go to ZIA and come back to Tejgaon runway for landing as directed by the ATCO.

Now let's come to my report regarding re-inquiry of another fatal accident of Air Parabat Training Aircraft S2-AAN on Sept 27, 1998 in which two would-be pilots Syed Rafiqul Islam and Fareea Lara both died. The Government of Bangladesh Order, Ref: BPM/CA-2/KN- 15/98 dated 15-3-99 may be looked into. The investigation committee comprised A.R. Sheikh, Chief Engineer, Flying Academy Kurmitola, Dhaka, member, Capt. Rafiqul Haque, Director, Flight Operation, Biman, member and Group Captain M. Iqbal Hossain of Civil Aviation Authority, Bangladesh, as Chairman. In the finding of that investigation in Paragraph 17.1 it is stated that the aircraft S2-AAN had history of high oil consumption, thereby having an engine failure after 50 minutes flight. As regards weather in paragraph 18 of the report it stated that, "from weather analysis it appears to us that there was no CB (cumulonimbus-thunderstorm cloud) at that time and place where the accident happened.

Capt. Badrul Alam may please go through the investigation report.

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