Aviation experts disagree on suitability of 63 Beach landing

There have been mixed reactions over the August Monday landing of a light Cessna 206 amphibian aircraft on the Number 63 Beach in Berbice.

The movement of the aircraft, which bore United States registration N29PM, had raised several questions, including whether it breached any aviation rules by landing at the particular area. Director General of the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) Zulficar Mohammed told this newspaper last Monday that the flight was legal.

Aviation expert Captain Gerry Gouveia told Stabroek News recently that as far as he is aware, no rules were breached by the aircraft operator during the flight. He said that float planes are designed to land anywhere there are suitable waterways as determined by the pilot and approved by the GCAA.

He said that in the Cessna’s case, the operator would have had to gain the approval of the GCAA and fly the craft in accordance with permission given. He said also that aircraft operators have to obtain an Air Operator Certificate (AOC), which is issued by the GCAA, and if there are any breaches of air regulations by any flight undertaken by the operator of a particular aircraft, the GCAA after a detail investigation could impose sanctions.

There are legal records on every movement of aircraft, including the flight time of the pilot, Gouveia noted. He said the time factor can also be verified by the amount of fuel utilized during the flight.

All flights are monitored by the government air traffic control service for collision avoidance and search and rescue, the flights are also closely monitored by the operators using satellite tracking services.

He said the flight in question occurred within Guyana’s waters and he reiterated that the movement was a legal landing.

Former Civil Aviation Department director Aubrey Alexander told Stabroek News earlier this week that the question which needed to be answered was whether the Number 63 Beach is an assigned aerodrome for the purposes of amphibian operations.

He said the authorities also needed to clarify whether it is okay for an aircraft to land at an area where there is a gathering of persons as there are specifications with which the operator would have to comply. Stabroek News was told that there were a number of persons at the beach on the day of the flight.

Asked whether the Number 63 Beach is a designated landing area, Mohammed told this newspaper that there is no designated area for amphibious aircraft to land and take-off at waterways but once the operator notifies the authorities, the aircraft can operate. When it was pointed out that there were a number of persons at the beach that day, based on a photograph obtained by this newspaper, Mohammed stated that the normal procedure for aircraft operations in such instances is for the pilot to overfly the area and persons would move off the landing area.

Gouveia said that he was upset at the article since, according to him, it could cast a negative light not only on the operator in question but on the local aviation industry in general.

Stabroek News understands that on the day of the flight, the operator contacted the Control Tower at Timehri and stated that he had permission to operate the flight into the Berbice area and that he had permission to land at the beach.

He related that he was given permission by the relevant minister to operate in the area and that if there were any objections, the minister should be contacted. Normally, it was noted, the operator would have had to make a request to operate in the intended destination and same would have been logged at the Control Tower for air traffic staff to note. It is unclear whether this was done.

The aircraft owner initially sought permission from the GCAA to fly into the Skeldon airstrip.

According to an aviation source, there are rules governing the operation of foreign registered aircraft into local aerodromes other than the Ogle airport or the Cheddi Jagan International Airport.

It was noted that the Number 63 Beach being positioned close to the Guyana/Suriname border should have been considered when permission was given to the operator.

The aircraft is owned and registered to Guyanese Yacoob Ally, as stated on US flight databases. It was registered in Palmetto, Florida to Ally several years ago.

This newspaper understands that the aircraft is usually parked at Ogle and its operations do not fall within the ambit of the Aircraft Owners Association of Guyana (AOAG). Attempts to reach Ally for a comment by this newspaper have been unsuccessful.

Several Chinese nationals and a local businessman were on the flight when it landed at the crowded beach on the day in question, persons there had said.

Stabroek News understands that the authorities, including the military, were upset at the aircraft’s movement and officials only knew of it after they were shown photographs of the craft on the beach on the day in question. It immediately sparked an interest.

Reports are that an investigation into the incident was launched but it is unclear what the outcome was. Stabroek News recently obtained a photograph of the aircraft moored alongside the Number 63 Beach and persons there said it was the first time they had seen an aircraft operating at the beach.

The aircraft remained at the beach for the remainder of the afternoon and some time later that day it “disappeared” a resident stated. Persons in the area said that there many persons on the beach that day and several persons were given rides on the aircraft around the beach.

A businessman in the area said that “foreign persons… would be seen at the beach during the afternoons.” He said the scenario was not “noticed at first” since often tourists would travel to and from the beach.

The businessman went on to comment that the authorities needed to pay keener interest in protecting the country’s territorial borders.

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