Right now I am sitting in the flight plan office of Dhaka airport waiting for something to happen. My handling agent Rashid seems very hazy about what to do next, but I dare say he'll discover eventually. Like India there are dozens if not hundreds of staff to fill out lots of forms in quadruplicate (at least) and then copy the same information by hand into ledgers. Nobody really knows why this must be done, it just the way it's done.
The flight plan man is currently worrying the recurring problem of aircraft type - nearly every aircraft has an ICAO four letter code; except microlights which aren't recognized by ICAO. The normal practice is therefore to put ZZZZ in the 'type' box, and the code TYP/GT450 in the remarks section. Of course this confuses them every time but explaining that ZZZZ is the noise my aircraft makes usually does the trick.
For once the charges here are an extremely reasonable $14; so far anyway. Calcutta fees were about $80 and then the handling agents nailed me for $197 for doing a lousy job on the paperwork. It's always rush rush rush..... Wait... Please sit here for something to happen. The bank people always seem to be more surprised than I am about this way of doing things; you would have thought they would be used to it; perhaps it's because their usual contact with aviation is just as commercial passengers and in the sub-continent that's almost as easy as it is in Europe these days.
Arriving in Dhaka Zia International was fairly straightforward except we got to within about 15 miles of the airport when we were told the airport was closed and we were to go back to 25 miles range and wait. Some sort of VIP arrival we supposed. As it is a short flight this wasn't a problem for us and it wasn't a long delay anyway.
What was unusual was what happened when we arrived. We were parked on a stand between a couple of jets, lots of people came over to have a look at us, but nobody seemed to know what to do. I went to the apron police station; they were very nice but were at just of much of a loss. Time passed, it was steamy hot.
Eventually I heard in the strange mixture of Bangla and English they use here the phrase 'flying club'. This sounded good to me, though I had no idea where it was, there was no sign of any flying club I could see. Eventually I discovered it was 'quite far, the other side of a watery place'. Miles and I hopped back into the machine to taxi there. There seemed to be some conflicting advice about whether we should do immigration and customs in the main airport building now or later but on the basis that if we did that now we would then have to get back into the airport, later seemed the better option.
The flying club was indeed quite far across a causeway in a big lake. They quickly offered us some hangar space and the machine was safe. The club was half military, half civilian, mostly small Cessnas and the like, but also a couple of 10 seater caravans, one on floats. There was also a very fine four engine ten seater seaplane in bits which I was told belonged to the president. I've no idea what it is. It would be a very big restoration job but the pile of bits looked more or less complete.
Then there was the problem of how to get back to the main airport to complete the formalities. No, neither the flying club or the military had a vehicle inside the airfield to give us a lift back to the main terminal, and we daren't go out the gate and into the terminal the other way as we would then have a lot of explaining to get through the system backwards. Just as we were about to set off walking the mile or so there with all our rather heavy kit one of the air traffic controllers appeared in an ambulance to have a look at us. Her saved us form a long hot walk. Thereafter we were in the safe hands of Shah Masud Imam, head of corporate affairs for Standard Chartered Bank in Bangladesh.
Next day they had a tight schedule lined up for Miles. The highlight was visiting the World famous Islamia Eye Hospital. This is an entirely independently run and funded hospital which doesn't charge anything and never turns anyone away; they carry out a simply remarkable 800 - 1000 cataract operations every day; Seeing is Believing, the charity we are supporting funded about 22,000 of them last year. Shah seemed pleased by the amount pledged to Seeing is Believing.
Miles was definitely flagging by the time he'd completed his fourth presentation of the day at a dinner for the great and good of Dhaka.
You too can help the Islamia Eye Hospital's remarkable work by going to the Seeing is Believing website and making a donation online. I'm told literacy in Bangladesh is quite high, but only 5% amongst blind people. Only $50 will permanently restore a child's sight and change their life forever.
Tomorrow we're off on the short flight to Chittagong and then to Burma. We still haven't decided the best option for routing; no permission for Mandalay - Chiang Mai has come through yet and we definitely don't have the range to get to Rangoon in one go. Watch this space...