Public disclosure over anomalies in the aviation sector

Part of the problem, which we continue to highlight, in bringing deficiencies in areas of public sector service delivery into the public domain and seeking to have those deficiencies corrected, has to do with the disinclination of public officials to ‘come clean’ on issues that are officially deemed to be sensitive.

We understand, of course, that in the matter of the dissemination of information many public officials are tethered by their political bosses so that that they must therefore either avoid the media altogether or else, cultivate certain Orwellian skills associated with talking a lot but essentially saying nothing.

After the succession of incidents in the local aviation sector over a relatively short period of time, two of which resulted in loss of life, the government’s attitude to transparency in matters pertaining to the management of the sector appears to have changed little. Of course, the local aviation sector is small, technical in nature and all of it is privately owned. That makes it easier to keep outsiders out. However, from what we have observed the situation is changing from what has long been a culture of exclusion, including the media, to what now appears to be a greater willingness to bring at least some issues into the open.

If that is indeed the case, we applaud the development for two reasons. The first has to do with the fact that while there are close links between the sector and the lives of people and communities, most of us know very little about the sector. The second reason is an equally obvious one. Whether it be in aviation or any other sector there are virtues to be derived from transparency.

The importance of the domestic aviation sector has to do, primarily with providing reliable air bridges between interior and coastal communities in circumstances where land and sea bridges remain considerably underdeveloped.

Increasingly these days, domestic aviation is linked to the need for quick and easy access to the country’s gold-mining communities, to say nothing of the need to respond to medical emergencies.

Our recent interview with Roraima Airways Chief Executive Officer Captain Gerry Gouveia (which appeared in last Friday’s Stabroek Business) was instructive insofar as it addressed a number of important things about safety in the sector. His evaluation of the competence of our pilots and the standards of professionalism applied in the maintenance of aircraft was reassuring. Guyana’s track record suggests that the sector is safe, though that does not mean that there might not be incidents from time to time. In fact, Captain Gouveia told us that while he had great confidence in the safety of the sector “problems sometimes arise when things go wrong.”

There are a few other points which Captain Gouveia made that are deserving of mention here. First, he said he did not approve of aviation accident investigations being undertaken by the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), which is what is done at this time. In fact, he wants the practice stopped and the responsibility for accident investigations passed to independent commissions of enquiry. That, he pointed out, was how it was done in other parts of the world. Another point he made had to do with the outcomes of the investigations, which remain classified documents. Captain Gouveia said there really ought to be nothing either secret or classified about professional and transparent probes of aircraft accidents. In fact, he made a strenuous argument for these being placed in the public domain so that “why what happened, happened” could be understood, with a view to taking corrective action where necessary.

But he did not stop there. He went on to raise searching questions about the institutional competence and capacity of the GCAA, as far as search and rescue and accident investigations are concerned. He said that from the perspective of his own considerable experience in the aviation sector the GCAA was decidedly and seriously underequipped to carry out search and rescue operations, particularly. In fact he made it clear that in his opinion the search and recovery operation involving the Trans Guyana aircraft that crashed a few weeks ago killing the pilot and one other occupant did not go as smoothly as it might have gone and that this was due to the competence and capacity issues to which he referred.

Afterwards, we spoke with Director of Civil Aviation Zulfikar Mohammed who insisted that his organisation has “an obligation” to conduct accident investigations. While he accepted that there might be circumstances in which these might involve investigation of the Authority itself, he said it was for the government to decide what happens in such cases. The other point about which Mr Mohammed was adamant was that his department possessed more than sufficient capacity to properly coordinate search and rescue operations.

The GCAA Head was unable to comment on the issue of the expeditious conduct of accident investigations and the placing of the results in the public domain. However, he did indicate that he would be releasing the report on the 2011 Caribbean Airlines accident which, of course, provides even more cause to wonder about all the sand dancing on issues in local aviation.

We do not believe that it is necessary to be an expert on the aviation industry to appreciate the point made by Captain Gouveia about the virtues of applying expert training, knowledge and transparency to addressing challenges that might arise in the sector. And we certainly appreciate and embrace the view that, where possible, expeditious investigations and the release of the findings that derive therefrom might help us to learn from our mistakes and not repeat them in the future.


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