Ogle Airport problems could trigger gov’t intervention

-Goveia says ASL has right to source cheaper fuel

Dogged by intermittent difficulties that have considerably delayed the completion of Guyana’s second international airport, the Ogle Airport Inc (OAI) the conglomerate comprising the five passenger and cargo aircraft operations and seven other investors appears to have hit yet another hurdle.

If no one is eager to admit it, the difficulty this time around appears to be an internal one between the industry’s two largest operators and founder members on the OAI consortium; and if the present spat has, in the final analysis turned out to be a relatively minor one, concerns are now being raised that unless the major players involved in the development of Guyana’s second international Airport get their act together, the long and sometimes counterproductive arm of the government might insert itself into the process.

Michael Correia, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the OAI and Chief Executive Officer of Trans Guyana Airways, by far the largest investor in the consortium is only too well aware that under the terms of the 2001 lease agreement between local aviation sector operators and government, the administration is at liberty to buy into the project; and while no one is prepared to concede this the government is by no means a welcome business partner.

Last week’s fuel delivery standoff involving Air Services Ltd, one of the two larger operators in the aviation sector and the OAI which culminated in the ramming of a gate by a tanker laden with aviation fuel might have been, according to another industry source “reckless and dangerous” and “an embarrassment to the industry” but Correia remains upbeat. The consortium, he says, has the money and there is the will to finish the project.

Sidelining  

An aerial view of the Ogle Municipal Airport

Correia’s optimism notwithstanding there is no mistaking the fact that the incident in which the gate was rammed is a microcosm of a wider problem. While ASL has so far declined to comment on the gate incident, its Operations Officer Annette Arjoon-Martins has focused recently on what she believes has been the sidelining of the company by the OAI and if she has not said this the inference is clear; ASL believes that what they are in fact faced with is a battle with the Correia Group- owned Trans Guyana Airways.

During an earlier interview with this newspaper Arjoon-Martins had disclosed that the company was at odds with the Board of OAI, over several issues including what ASL felt were attempts to stymie its expansion plans. During that interview Arjoon-Martins des-cribed the proceedings at a meeting earlier this year during which ASL was not returned to the Board of Directors for the first time since the 2001 establishment of the OAI. At a media briefing on Monday following the ramming of the gate by the fuel truck Arjoon-Martins returned to the issue of the composition of the Board, asserting that it was dominated by a group that might have a vested interest in the welfare of one its competitors and calling both for ASL’s return to the Board and an official enquiry into the operations of OAI.

Roraima Airways Chief Executive Officer Captain Gerry Goveia

ASL and Trans Guyana Airways, the two ‘big players’ in the local aviation industry, enjoy the largest share of the air travel market between the coast and the interior that services both the country’s hinterland communities and the continually growing gold-mining industry. The perceived problem is that the harnessing of companies that are in effect competitors in the same industry, within a single company with overarching responsibility for the Ogle Airport project, has created inevit-able tensions. Those who take that view point to the fact that Correia is Chairman of the Board of Directors of the OAI as well as President of the Aircraft Owners Association, in other words “both a player and regulator” in the industry, according to another aviation source. It is a view that Correia himself does not accept.

Last week’s incident appeared to stem from what OAI Communications Con-sultant Kit Nascimento told Stabroek Business was ASL’s failure to follow laid-down procedures in the course of what appeared to be an attempt to terminate its fuel supply arrangements with CAMS in favour of an alternative fuel source. Stabroek Business understands that ASL had sought and secured official permission to import its own fuel. There is, however, a difference of opinion between Nascimento and another OAI Board member, Roraima Airways Chief Executive Officer Captain Gerry Goveia. ASL, Nascimento says, failed to follow the laid-down regulations which require the company to secure OAI’s permission to introduce an alternative fuel supply. Goveia says that ASL has the right if it so chooses “to access and utilize a cheaper fuel source.” Oddly enough and setting aside the need to comply with regulations, Correia appears to have no problem with Goveia’s view as he made clear during an interview with this newspaper earlier this week. At last Monday’s media briefing Arjoon-Martins insisted that ASL had  satisfied the requirements governing the use of its own fuel.

This newspaper understands last Thursday’s lockout of the tanker delivering fuel for ASL’s aircraft and the summoning to Ogle of the Customs Anti Narcotics Unit (CANU) and impounding of a tanker seeking to make a similar delivery two days earlier was directly related to OAI’s insistence that ASL had not been authorized to utilize another fuel source.

By last Wednesday it appeared that efforts had gotten underway at the levels of both the government and the private sector to intervene in the dispute, the former, by directing that the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority commence an enquiry into the gate-ramming incident and the latter by reportedly seeking the mediatory attention of the Private Sector Commission.

The process of creating a municipal international airport has hit several previous hurdles including a 2008 spat between government and the OAI over official refusal of an application for port of entry status, a refusal on the grounds that there were unspecified shortcomings in the level of preparedness of the facility for such status. In the same year the administration and OAI became embroiled in a controversy over the refusal of the Ministry of Finance to release funds made available under a 1.5 million Euros grant provided by the European Development Fund (EDF) to pursue the completion of the second phase of the airport’s runway project. That controversy reportedly arose over moves allegedly made by the government to have the EDF grant used as state equity in the Ogle project.

This newspaper understands that the OAI has collectively invested more than US$5m in the establishment of buildings and other facilities necessary to ensure Ogle’s use as an international airport with Nascimento implying that there were significant differentials in the extent of the investments by the respective companies comprising the consortium.  Earlier this year the OAI announced that it was making a further investment in increasing the heights of the aprons and taxiway at the Ogle runway by 18 inches to guard against the possibility of flooding. OAI is currently in the final stages of completing a new 4,200 foot runway, one of last major remaining assignments before aircraft providing service to the region get the green light to utilize the Airport.

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