Aviation authority unable to police remote airstrips

The local aviation authority lacks the manpower to enforce security regulations at some of the country’s remote airstrips, according to members of the aviation fraternity.

“There are over 100 airstrips in Guyana and ideally it is the responsibility of the Guyana Civil Aviation Authourity (GCAA) to regulate them but in practice this is impossible,” aviation expert Kit Nascimento told Stabroek News.

Nascimento was at the time addressing questions posed on the security that exists at the Ekereku airstrip, where 17-year-old Racquel Joseph was sliced to death by the propellers of a single-engine Cessna 172 aircraft after she entered its path last Wednesday.

Racquel Joseph
Racquel Joseph

“The authourity on the matter is the GCAA but to ask them to put the kind of enforcement and other facilities that would normally be in place at an airstrip is a virtual impossibility since they lack the required resources,” Nascimento said.

As an alternative, he said, local community bodies usually try to make efforts to enforce regulations at these airstrips.

Veteran pilot Gerry Gouveia added that the local police are usually a crucial resource in ensuring that such regulations are enforced, especially keeping persons off isolated yet busy airstrips, such as the one at Ekereku.

GCAA Director of Air Services Paula McAdam yesterday confirmed that the regulatory body does not have enforcement agents at the Ekereku airstrip to regulate the conduct of persons on the ground, and said that it usually depends on the police to do so.

It is unclear which local body has the responsibility of policing GCAA regulations at the airstrip.

Nascimento explained that airplane owners also try their best to take precautions when operating on airstrips which lack GCAA-supervised enforcement of regulations.

Last week, Gouveia had said that pilots usually ensured that their engines were off before anyone disembarked or approached the plane for boarding or other reasons.

None of the men cast blame for the young woman’s death on Orlando Charles, the man who was piloting the plane, while GCAA Director General Zulfikar Mohammed said that a conclusion on the matter could not be drawn until the report on the investigations was completed.

However, Brandis Joseph, the young woman’s father, yesterday said that he found it hard to believe that nobody is to be blamed for his daughter’s death.

The man said that despite his daughter’s actions, there should have been persons in place to prevent what happened.

“They should got people there like they have at Timerhi.

At Timerhi they got people to tell you where to go and not to go and people are not allowed to go near planes unless the engines shut off,” he said.

Police had reported that the plane had just touched down when Joseph ended up in the path of its propellers. Apart from this very vague explanation, the circumstances surrounding the young woman’s death were still uncertain.

Stabroek News has since been informed by the Joseph’s relatives that she was trying to retrieve a bag which the plane had brought for her.

According to information provided to relatives, Joseph, who reportedly arrived on an earlier plane, approached the plane from its rear to collect her bag, before its pilot turned off the engine.

After collecting her bag though, Joseph reportedly moved close to the front of the plane and was caught in the path of its propellers.

When contacted yesterday Charles declined to comment of the events of June 12, but he did reveal that the non-profit organisation which he flies for, Flight of Hope, will, in part, be taking care of Joseph’s funeral expenses.

She is expected to be buried tomorrow.

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