Works Minister Robeson Benn says it is not unusual for airstrips to go for months without seeing any aircraft land or take off.
The minister’s statement comes in the wake of claims by residents of Wakenaam, that the $54.4 million airstrip, built by the government, has only ever been used twice since its completion.
During a visit to the island last Thursday, residents of Maria’s Pleasure told Stabroek News that they were only aware of two instances where planes landed on the airstrip. One of the planes was piloted by Captain Gerry Gouveia. The other instance involved the emergency landing of a small aircraft which ran out of fuel against strong head winds on its way to Suriname sometime in 2011.
The plane’s pilot reportedly saw the small runway on his way to Ogle and decided to set the plane down.
Speaking Stabroek News yesterday, Gouveia said that he had indeed piloted a team of officials from the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) into Wakenaam and landed on the airstrip. He said he had made the trip at the behest of Benn, who asked him to determine if the airstrip was fit enough to be licensed.
Gouveia said he found the airstrip to be up to the required standards and submitted a written report to the minister expressing this position. In fact, Gouveia said, the airstrip was better than about 60% of other such runways in Guyana.
On Sunday, GCAA Director General Zulficar Mohammed, though unable to give a specific date, informed this newspaper that the strip was licensed just a few weeks ago.
Meanwhile, Region 3 Chairman Julius Faerber, earlier this year had told Stabroek News that flights were, on occasion, taking off and landing on the airstrip. If the chairman is correct it means that planes had been using the airstrip before it was certified by the GCAA to commence operations.
Nevertheless, residents maintained that they were unaware of any aircraft landing on the airstrip aside from that of Gouveia’s, who landed late last year, and the plane which was headed to Suriname, which landed in 2011.
Benn, though, said it was not unusual for such airstrips to go months without seeing any planes land or take off. He said that the airstrip was built to offer those who reside on the island better access to security, medical treatments, and also as a means of assisting in commercial endeavours.
He said the availability of such infrastructure can very well lead to the further development of the island, particularly along the lines of tourism. Residents, however, had said that the financial resources used by the government to build the airstrip could have been used instead to enhance the island’s medical facilities.
During last Thursday’s trip, it was also revealed that the airstrip remained unpaved, and a significant portion was overrun by weeds. Additionally, there was a considerable amount of brush on the airstrip’s shoulders. Two “agricultural workers” were at the time spraying the growth with a poisonous substance. Stabroek News was made to understand that the men were attempting to clear the vegetation on and around the airstrip ahead of a visit by Benn. The minister is reportedly scheduled to visit the island on June 16.
Benn yesterday said he was unaware of the current condition of the airstrip, but mentioned that its maintenance was the responsibility of the Wakenaam Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC). Stabroek News was unable to establish contact with officials from the NDC.
On the matter of the non-paving of the airstrip, Benn said that it was never the intention of the ministry to have it paved. The minister said the airstrip was built exactly the way they had set out to build it.
Mohammed had also stated that some airstrips, depending on their type, do not require paving.