In the wake of recent incidents with planes including crashes, aviation authorities will be stepping up surveillance of local airlines and their operations.
“We have been discussing additional measures, additional oversight in respect of heightening the level of surveillance with respect to aircraft operations,” Minister of Transport and Hydraulics Robeson Benn told reporters at a news conference yesterday. Benn, along with officials of the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) including Director-General Zulficar Mohamed were reporting on the Trans Guyana Airways (TGA) plane crash that occurred on Saturday in the mid-Mazaruni jungle. The pilot Blake Slater and cargo loader Dwayne Jacobs died in the crash.
“We have been recently quite concerned over a number of aircraft incidents, mishaps,” Benn said. He referred to the January 11 crash of a Cessna 206 aircraft which was heading to Kato. The plane crashed on take-off at the Ogle International Airport and then flipped over. Preliminary investigations, Benn said, indicate that the incident “seems to be related” to weights on the aircraft at takeoff.
“Overall for the entire system, we are doing reassessments,” Benn said while adding that they will work to ensure that there is no recurrence of this kind.
One of the issues arising out of some recent incidents is the question of whether in relation to the loading of planes, standards are being followed as prescribed, Benn said. “We will be requiring ad-hoc inspections in the operational areas and also at Ogle itself with respect to some of these issues,” he said. Such inspections have been undertaken from time to time but a higher frequency of these inspections both on the coast and in the interior is being sought, the Minister said. “This is not necessarily to prejudge what might have happened in this case but we do have some concerns at the operational level,” he added.
TGA officials have said that on the fateful flight, the plane- a Cessna 208B Grand Caravan which bore registration number 8R-GHS, was transporting seven drums of diesel weighing about 2800 pounds, below the maximum allowable cargo weight of just under 3000 pounds. When asked about the weight, Mohamed said that at this time, there is nothing to indicate that it was not carrying the allowable amount of cargo.
Benn said that airline operators are aware of their concerns and the authorities will be dealing formally with some of the concerns that they have. He said that from time to time, the various agencies have been engaged with the GCAA with respect to issues that have been noted from the Ogle or Timehri tower and also with respect to mishaps or deviations from the safety norms in the interior.
He noted that at Ogle there are 50,000 aircraft movements on an annual basis and about 130 daily. The system has been responding to this but there are obviously things that they have to look into arising out of this and other investigations, Benn said. “All effort will be made towards ensuring that we have safe aircraft operations,” he asserted.
Meantime, in relation to the Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) which was not triggered during the crash and which TGA officials have expressed concern about, Benn said that the manufacturer will be contacted. He noted that there have been recent incidents in Guyana where the ELTs have not triggered.
Mohamed said that the investigators will have to check whether the ELT is functional or not. If it is found to be faulty, it will be sent to the manufacturer and they will do further investigations, he said while noting that there have been a few accidents and incidents recently where the new 406 megahertz ELTs have not been triggered. This has happened in other countries as well and is of concern to aviators, Mohamed said. It is an issue that has to be dealt with holistically at a macro level, he added.
With regards to a timeline for the completion of the investigations, Mohamed said that they have none and this is dependent on how quickly they can garner the information necessary. The engine will have to be stripped and has to be sent back to the manufacturer in Canada for this and will be done under the supervision of the aviation authority there, Transport Canada Safety Board, which has already committed an investigator for this.
In relation to why the army’s Bell 412 helicopter was not used in the search and rescue operation, Benn said that it was down for a quick change out and maintenance and while it could be flown, it was an additional risk as the change out was not complete.
Investigators will return to the site today because they have to remove certain components from the aircraft that required specialized equipment, Benn said.
He had earlier said that GCAA investigators have identified and commenced the interviewing of material witnesses and are
gathering the necessary documentary and photographic evidence at the site for analysis. He said that the GCAA is in contact with Transport Canada, the National Transport and Safety Board of the United States, the Caribbean Aviation Safety and Security Oversight System (CASSOS), the Civil Aviation Authority Suriname, the aircraft manufacturer Cessna and the engine manufacturer Pratt and Whitney. “All of these entities have indicated their willingness to provide assistance that the GCAA may need to carry out their investigation into the cause of the crash,” he said.
The TGA plane went missing on Saturday morning while transporting mining supplies from Olive Creek to Imbaimadai. TGA spokesman Kit Nascimento had told Stabroek News that the plane went down shortly after take-off from the small Olive Creek airstrip in the mountainous, jungle area in Region Seven.
Nascimento said that at 10:55 am, shortly after the plane’s take-off from the airstrip, a distress call was received from the pilot. He said that the airline immediately launched a full search and rescue operation using a plane that was in the area at the time. The GCAA was also notified and activated its Rescue Coordination Centre and additional planes, two helicopters and army personnel were deployed to the area. After hours of searching, the crash site was identified on Sunday just after noon. Soldiers reached the site on Monday and the bodies were retrieved and brought to the city on Tuesday.