ASL urges probe of Ogle airport ops

-in wake of gate ramming

-cites domination by Correia Group

A fuel supply row which saw a tanker ramming a gate at Ogle Airport on Thursday deepened yesterday with Air Services Limited (ASL) calling for an inquiry into operations there and charging that domination of the facility by a competitor was the root of the problem.

An Air Services official has been accused by Ogle Airport Incorporated of driving a fuel tanker through the locked gates of the aerodrome after being denied permission to enter because it was not an authorized fuel supplier.

Annette Arjoon–Martins

Yesterday, ASL sidestepped questions about the gate crashing but charged that domination of the Ogle facility by the Correia Group – its main competitor – has put it at a disadvantage and the standoff over fuel is intended to preserve the monopoly on supply.

At a press conference yesterday at the company’s base at Ogle on the East Coast of Demerara (ECD), Flight Operations Superintendent at ASL, Annette Arjoon– Martins reading from a prepared statement said  that  there is need for a body to be set up to investigate the operations of the airport in order to ensure that  there is “equitable representation of the legitimate aviation companies in the allocation of land, issuing of fuel permits and other relevant aviation matters.”

She said that the Government of Guyana through the Minister of Transport and the Director General of the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority which has regulatory jurisdiction over the aviation sector must also be installed on the board of the airport.

She said too that the chair of the Private Sector Commission (PSC) must also be a member of the board since it is the fittest agency to ensure compliance with the Competition and Fair Trading Act. Arjoon-Martins said  that the airline has commenced legal proceedings to address the “present unfair situation which exists at Ogle”.

As regards the incident, which resulted in a fuel tanker laden with fuel being driven through the locked gates at the airport on Thursday evening, Arjoons-Martins  noted that on the fourth trip to Ogle by its fuel tanker on Thursday evening, both the ASL tanker and truck were refused entry to the aerodrome by a padlocked gate, thereby denying  the company’s staff and equipment access to its business premises beyond the gate.

She stated that “a senior management representative arrived on the scene, and after being denied permission to drive his company tanker to his company premises, he drove through the gate to get to his place of businesses.” OAI has named the official as ASL executive and pilot Mzahar Ally.

When the floor was opened to questions yesterday, Arjoon–Martins  was asked whether the company regrets the gate crashing incident, and she stated that she could not comment on the matter further  and that she would only say that the company’s legal team is looking into it. Aviation sources say the crashing of the gates by the tanker was reckless and could have caused a catastrophic explosion.

When asked if any charges are likely against the company, ASL founder, Yacoob Ally noted that the police were looking into the matter. He added that officials of the company also met with the police on Saturday and lodged a statement to this effect.

Officials of the company and OAI, the management of the airport, are also expected to meet with Transport Minister Robeson Benn this week.

ASL has charged that last week’s incident was the result of a select group of individuals who sit on the board of the airport’s management being in a position to control the operations of the airport.
ASL has noted that it has been handling its own fuel for over half a century, the only change being the use of increasing quantities of fuel due to its expanding operations.

The company stated that it has complied with the guidelines set by OAI and the Caribbean Aviation and Maintenance Services Limited (CAMSL) for the handling, storage and dispensing of fuel.

It was noted too by the airline’s management that for more than 20 years, ASL has transported fuel to its Mahdia operations where it now moves over 250,000lbs of cargo per month for the gold-mining industry and for several governmental agencies. The company noted too that it has recently started transporting fuel to Lethem to service that location as well.

Aviation sources have pointed out however that ASL doesn’t have permission under the OAI operations manual to supply fuel to the airport.

No longer

As regards its fuel sourcing arrangements, ASL noted yesterday in a statement that “the only thing that has changed is that ASL will no longer be purchasing  GY$83,000,000  of fuel per month from CAMSL, and this is the main reason attempts are being made to prevent it from controlling its own fuel supply.” CAMSL is a subsidiary of the Correia Group of Companies.

It was contended yesterday at the press conference that ASL is permitted under the relevant regulations to transport and store fuel at Ogle for its own operations, a move which was made to cut back on costs. Company representative Captain Mazahar Ally noted that there are guidelines which were set out by the management of the airport in this regard and he noted that the airline has complied with such regulations.

As regards the future of the fuel arrangements the company has with CAMSL, representatives of ASL noted that it will continue to source fuel independently for its operations.

The company said that it is open to dialogue with the management of the airport and the government in order to resolve existing differences between the airline and the airport’s management.

The Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) is yet to comment on the gate ramming and the dispute over fuel supply.

In its statement yesterday ASL denied that it had received a letter from OAI on Thursday, August 11 forbidding it from taking aviation fuel onto the premises.

It also charged that the OAI board which is dominated by the Correia Group ultimately decides who is allowed to sell fuel and at the moment that job is held down by Correia subsidiary, CAMSL.

“No one can demand that ASL must purchase fuel from its competitor and rising fuel costs, if not ameliorated, will result in more expensive airfares to the Guyanese residents, particularly in the remote and largely unserved areas…

“ASL has demonstrated its commitment to affordable transportation which is also a policy of the Government of Guyana. ASL has already proved this is possible when it entered the North West markets which were previously only served by one company and has since brought down the fares by 35%. Airfares to Lethem were also brought down when ASL entered that market. When ASL was approached by other operators to set airfare and charter prices ASL…refused to do so. ASL remains committed to affordable transportation and by controlling its own fuel which is resulting in (savings of) GY$400 per gallon this can be maintained”, ASL asserted. The statement noted that ASL was represented on the first board of Ogle Airport Inc but a decade later there are three representatives of the Correia Group and none from Air Services.

It also argued that there is a conflict of interest in OAI being chaired by Michael Correia who also heads the Correia Group. ASL noted that the Correia Group also owns CAMSL and Trans Guyana and as Chairman of the OAI board Correia also helps to set policy and regulate.

Meanwhile, OAI yesterday wrote the GCAA drawing its attention to the present situation and the prohibition on ASL in relation to fuel handling. It called on him to notify ASL that its fuel may not be used at Ogle Airport and added that the “The Airport cannot accept the liability of any aircraft accident involving ASL aircraft operating at Ogle Airport”.

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