Investigations of aircraft incidents should be done independently of the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), operators say and they have renewed a call for the GCAA to hire a qualified flight operations inspector.
“What should be in place is a totally independent investigating body,” spokesman for the Aircraft Owners Association of Guyana (AOAG) Kit Nascimento told Stabroek News when contacted. “The GCAA themselves when there is an accident, should be subject to the investigation because they are the regulatory and administrative agency and therefore would be investigating themselves,” he said while adding that it is the practice worldwide that there would be an investigation independent of the civil agency.
In the wake of recent incidents with planes including crashes, aviation authorities will be stepping up surveillance of local airlines and their operations, and Nascimento yesterday also renewed a call for the GCAA to employ a qualified flight operations inspector. “Until such time that the GCAA engages the services of a qualified flights operations inspector they will not be fully equipped to regulate the industry,” he said.
Director-General of the GCAA Zulficar Mohamed, when contacted by Stabroek News, said that any civil aviation authority has an obligation to carry out an immediate investigation and noted that while some countries have independent investigation bodies such as the National Transportation and Safety Board in the US, the US Federal Aviation Administration also carries out its own investigation.
He acknowledged that the GCAA does not have a full-time flight operations inspector but said that they have been using inspectors from Caribbean Aviation Safety and Security Oversight System (CASSOS) member countries. Mohamed said that the GCAA had had a fulltime inspector but the industry “strenuously objected to him” while another left. He said that an expatriate could be hired but they are very expensive and the GCAA cannot afford this at this time.
Inspections using inspectors from CASSOS are done as often as the industry requires it, he emphasized.
Nascimento said that over the past four or five years, operators have urged Minister of Transport Robeson Benn to ensure that the GCAA is sufficiently equipped with a qualified flight operations inspector as part of the regulatory requirements for the industry. He said that until such time as the GCAA engages a qualified flight operations inspector they will not be properly equipped to fully regulate the industry as it should be. The operators themselves have been pressing for the GCAA to be upgraded and properly staffed, he said.
The spokesman noted that given the number of flights and hours flown, the Ogle International Airport is the busiest airport in the Caribbean “by far.”
“As far as I am concerned our industry is very safe,” he asserted while adding that if the GCAA is to fulfill its responsibility, it must be properly staffed and financed and currently it is not.
In relation to the proposed increased surveillance, Nascimento said that operators “more than welcome” this and restated that they have been pressing for employment of flight operations inspectors. He noted that an inspector supervises the safety inspections and requirements of the operator and the GCAA has been doing that without a fully and properly qualified person. “The GCAA does not have on its staff a fully qualified flight operations inspector,” he said. “They haven’t been willing to spend the money.”
He noted that inspections that currently take place are carried out by persons brought in from CASSOS or Trinidad “but we have none in Guyana and we should.”
Nascimento said that the AOAG believes that accident investigations should be carried out independently of the GCAA. He referred to the April 2013 crash of a plane in Sparendaam during which the pilot and a passenger were killed.
At the time, the AOAG was concerned at the direction which the probe had taken and wrote to President Donald Ramotar on the matter. Under the regulations governing the aviation sector the President has the power to appoint an investigating officer for crashes of this type.
The GCAA itself is subject to investigations and right now it is the GCAA conducting investigations, he said. “What should be in place is a totally independent investigating body.” A row between government officials and private aviation operators had boiled over in 2008 when Air Services Limited with the support of the AOAG moved to the courts seeking an order restraining the GCAA and Benn from permitting then Flight Operations Inspector Kame Prashad from acting as Flight Operations Inspector.
The AOAG had expressed concern that the GCAA was without the services of qualified flight operations oversight capability, thereby compromising standards. A statement then had said that Benn must be aware that “it is now over four years since the Civil Aviation Authority is without the services of a qualified flight operations oversight capability in accordance with the requirements set out in the GCAA regulations and in compliance with the standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).”
It said that the aircraft owners association had held repeated meetings and has been in extensive correspondence with previous ministers and the Director General of Civil Aviation and the Chairman of the Board of the GCAA since 2004 on this matter, and it is yet to be satisfactorily resolved.
On Wednesday, in the wake of recent incidents with planes including crashes, Benn had announced that aviation authorities will be stepping up surveillance of local airlines and their operations. He had identified overloading as one of their concerns.
The latest incident occurred when a Trans Guyana Airways (TGA) plane crashed on Saturday in the mid-Mazaruni jungle. The pilot Blake Slater and cargo loader Dwayne Jacobs died in the crash.