-former GDF aeronautical engineers

Professional aeronautical engineers who were groomed by the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) air wing are recommending that the authorities implement measures to upgrade the status of the Air Corps.

Several overseas based Guyanese who had served the GDF for a number of years told this newspaper recently that the air wing of the army should be upgraded to the level it once was. When contacted by this newspaper yesterday Commodore Gary Best, Chief of Staff offered no comment on the issue.

One engineer noted that persons who had served  Air Corps in different capacities had gone on to develop their careers overseas, and according to him  many persons had chosen to leave the  air wing because the incentives “just are not there.” He said the overall capacity of the Air Corps should be enhanced, including the unit’s human resources.
In days gone by, he said, engineers and pilots in the army were among the highest paid professionals in the country, but now this was not the case. Another professional who served the army’s air wing for more than a decade  told  Stabroek News that he was “surprised” during a visit to his former workplace, the GDF’s Air Corps base at Timehri, to observe  engineers from another Caricom territory undertaking mechanical work on one of the army’s helicopters  at the base.

He said in the past nationals from several Caribbean territories, including Jamaica, had been trained in the engineering field there, and that Guyana had provided good training in terms of courses in that field. Nationals from other Caribbean territories were annually trained in the field here and several engineers attached to the GDF air wing were schooled there, some of whom are at present attached to the Art Williams and Harry Wendt Aeronautical Engineering School in Ogle.

A United States-based Guyanese engineer who served the army told this newspaper recently that a group of former GDF engineers had been willing to return to these shores to assist the air wing in the area of training, guidance and professional support, and the group had even approached a government official on the issue
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However, the group’s plans had been shelved as the authorities could not provide “good incentives” for his group to travel. He said the group had wanted to come here to service the army’s aircraft whenever the time period for the maintenance of the craft had been completed. The repairs would have been undertaken free of cost, he noted.
The man told this newspaper that he and his colleagues had served the military in various fields, including technical record-keeping, as flight technicians, store personnel and pilots. He said that some of the army’s helicopter pilots were currently working in Caribbean territories, while others were in the US and Canada.

Commercial operations

Meanwhile, several persons have voiced concern over criticisms levelled at the military for the use of their aircraft for commercial operations. Some had noted that those “criticising the army in this light used to fly for the army commercially when they were pilots.”  A former engineer in the military here told this newspaper that the army’s air wing  had been serving Guyana in different capacities, including state flights, medical evacuations and humanitarian missions and the  air unit accumulated “substantial  funds”  through its commercial operations, some of which included “reaching the remote areas of Guyana.” He said funds from its commercial activities had contributed significantly to the development of the Air Corps at the time.

Captain Gerry Gouveia, a trained professional in the field, had expressed concern about GDF aircraft being involved in commercial ventures.
In a recent interview with this newspaper, Gouveia stated that the army aircraft had been competing with the private aircraft industry and this was one of the reasons it had been unable to undertake operations requiring the use of its helicopters, since the craft were not constantly maintained. He said that the army had been using its aircraft “to compete with us” (private aircraft operators) and so private entities were obliged to operate their aircraft at a huge cost.

However, past professionals who served the army, some at the time  Gouveia did as a pilot, told this newspaper recently that ‘Gouveia appears to be the only one commenting on the issue.” Commodore Best offered no comment on the matter when contacted yesterday.

The army has been operating its aircraft commercially for decades since the formation of its air wing in 1968, in accordance with provisions set out by the Defence Board. The unit currently operates seven aircraft, two of them being the controversial Bell 206 helicopters.

Bell 412

Meantime, several persons within the sector have called on the authorities to reconsider the proposed sale of the Bell 412 helicopter, registered 8R-GFP, which one year later is still on the market. Several  persons within the field locally and internationally, told this newspaper recently that the Bell 412 helicopter should be repaired “by experts” and that the machine which had some 4000 flying hours to date, would prove invaluable to the GDF.

One aviator told this newspaper that the plans by the military to purchase a Bell 212 helicopter, “may not be a bad idea” and that the military should “get the right people” to provide advice on such purchases.

This newspaper reported recently that the authorities were considering plans to purchase a Bell 212 helicopter, which is said to be 35 years old, much older than the army’s Bell 412 helicopter. The Bell 212 helicopter  is an earlier version of the Bell 412, the difference between the two  machines being the number of blades which make up the aircraft’s main rotors; the Bell 412 has 4 while the  Bell 212 has two.

Past pilots who had worked with the army told Stabroek News that the authorities “made a mistake” when one of its helicopters, a Bell 412 which was registered  8R-GEQ locally, had been sold several years ago, since that machine was said to be reliable and could navigate difficult terrain.

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