For all the stumbling blocks that have been placed in the way of the transformation of the Ogle aerodrome into Guyana’s second international airport, the management of Ogle Airport Inc. the company comprising twelve investors undertaking the project under a lease arrangement agreed with the Government of Guyana in 2001, exudes a quiet optimism that the project will prevail.
Once you begin to understand the rationale behind the decision by the investors in the project to pump millions of dollars into its execution without any realistic hope of a short-term return, you come to recognize that an undertaking such as this is neither for the faint-hearted nor is it a venture that could have been undertaken purely for quick monetary profit.
This year marks ten years since the project got underway. The Government of Guyana had been served with an ultimatum by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to restore the decrepit Ogle facility or close it down. It chose the former option after years of prevarication and even after it agreed to begin talks with the country’s Aircraft Owners Association, those discussions took a year to bear fruit.
So far, private investors, mostly some of the members of the Aircraft Owners Asso-ciation have pumped around US$3M into the project to add to the US$2M put in by the European Union and CARICOM. No investor has as yet seen a single cent in return on their investments, and Michael Correia, the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Ogle Airport Inc. the private consortium that is both managing Ogle and overseeing its development, believes that financial returns are still some distance away.
In a sense, the Ogle airport project is a unique business experiment. It is being touted as a kind of showpiece for public/private sector cooperation, a joint venture business undertaking utilizing a facility owned by the Government of Guyana and challenging the stakeholders in the country’s aviation industry into a venture that compels them to work together. If difficulties have arisen in the execution of the project that have to do with the fact that competitors in a single sector have been thrown together in a common cause, both Correia and the OAI’s Chief Executive Officer Anthony Mekdeci are persuaded that it simply has to work.
A great deal is riding on the full and successful completion of the project. Ogle has always facilitated air travel between coastal Guyana and the country’s vast interior which, these days, has assumed a far greater national importance. First, there is the significant increase in the movement of people and cargo from the coast to the far-flung interior regions of the country. Equally significant has been the enhanced economic role that the country’s mining and forestry sectors now play in national economic life and the consequential enhancement of travel to and from the various gold mining and forestry locations. There is also the significance of the project for the growing global interest in the country’s rainforests, linked to the international environmental agenda by Guyana’s Low Carbon Development Strategy, (LCDS) an undertaking that places the rainforest under international scrutiny and bespeaks the need for easy access to the interior.
Then there is the imperative of increased intra-regional travel, a consideration that has witnessed investment of both time and resources in its completion by CARICOM. By developing a municipal airport at Ogle, intra regional flights now have an option of using the Cheddi Jagan Inter-national Airport, separated from Georgetown by more than twenty miles of road. Ogle is a mere six miles from the country’s capital.
There is an intensity about Correia’s demeanour that can be unsettling. As Chairman of the Board of Directors he is the de facto Chief Executive Officer of the project. A seemingly unusually quiet man, he appears deliberate and intense. Correia is Chairman of the Correia Group of Companies, an undertaking that has major interests in the aviation and gold mining sectors. Trans Guyana Airways, the Group’s aviation company, holds more than half of the shares in the OAI. He insists that the kind of boardroom control which it affords him does not cause him to lose sight of the interests of his business partners and if that is not a universally held view it does not appear to bother him unduly.
His Authority within the OAI stems from his demonstrated commitment to seeing the creation of the new airport through, a commitment that is illustrated in the fact that he has poured by far the most funds into the project. At the very least he appears to be the first among equals.
Apart from its current role as a facility for flights serving the interior, Ogle has now been developed to a point where it accommodates flights between Georgetown and Paramaribo in Suriname. Additionally, it facilitates quick and easy air travel to Lethem, enabling easy access to neighbouring Brazil. Each day there are more than 150 movements at Ogle Airport.
If there is concern as work progresses towards the completion of the Ogle facility it is that up until now the promised state regulatory body for the Airport is yet to be put in place. Arguably, the presence of such a body may well have prevented a recent incident that has triggered a call by Air Services Ltd, (ASL) one of the shareholders in the OAI for an official investigation into the running of the facility. ASL claimed recently that the influence of the Board Chairman’s interests as the largest shareholder is affecting the smooth running of Ogle and if Correia’s contention that the OAI is managed in the interest of the shareholders and of the project itself, then the spat with ASL does appear, at least to some observers, to resemble a muted conflict between the two largest companies in the local aviation industry.
It is, however, the delivery of the project that appears to be uppermost in Correia’s mind. The new airstrip which is being built to accommodate regional carriers will, he says, be completed by year end. It should have been completed long ago but over time the pace of work has been affected by a succession of events outside OAI’s control. And if all goes well the Ogle Municipal Airport will be receiving flights from the Caribbean by mid 2012.