Bring back US air services to Guyana

Dear Editor,

There have been a lot of comments, both in the press and in the streets, about the situation with regard to air travel, in particular, to North America, and the lack of good fares and service for Guyanese who are eager to visit their loved ones as much as possible. Air services throughout the Caribbean could be a lot better by now because the genesis of air travel to this region started in the USA, and I feel that the future of air travel is intricately linked to the USA. My father, President Cheddi, returned in 1941 to Guyana from the USA after completing his studies on a Pan American clipper airplane which landed on the Demarara River, and his wife, Janet, joined him one year later, being transported by the same Pan-Am clipper service. Recently, the former head of Guyana Airlines (GAC), Mr Khan, commented that GAC was the answer to our air travel woes, but he is forgetting the unreliable service offered, even when he was in charge of that airline owned by the Guyana government. Government can’t even give our people a proper bus service so will they give us proper air services? Mr Khan should be quiet and leave things alone; his record underscores his lack of understanding of the airline industry.

Editor, the aeroplane was invented and first flown by the Wright brothers of the USA around the turn of the last century and by 1927 many fliers were vying for the great prize of US$25,000 and the fame of crossing the Atlantic Ocean from New York to Paris (or vice versa); many tried and all failed until a lone pilot in a one-engine plane made of wood covered with cloth took off from the Roosevelt Field in Long Island, New York on May 20,1927 in his daring attempt to get to Paris, over 3,600 miles and almost 35 hours away. The engine had never been put to the stress of his upcoming challenges. This man would change the whole concept of air travel and he would go on to lay the groundwork for regular air transport throughout the world based on his superb understanding of aircraft and the expansion of the air industry in the USA.

Editor, as Charles Lindbergh taxied his little plane off the runway on that morning through a muddy ground with 451 gallons of gas, many people who watched didn’t even think he’d get off the runway as the plane struggled to get off the ground;  many there might not have imagined that this young man was an experienced pilot who had delivered US mail throughout the USA and who had survived two major crashes and had been forced to parachute to safety on more than one occasion. Lindbergh was also an officer in the US Air Corps and had been a stunt flier in travelling aeroplane shows (barnstorming) all over the south-west of the USA. But in 1927, he got backing from prominent St Louis, Missouri businessmen and built his plane, ‘The Spirit of St Louis,’ in San Diego, California to specifications which he carefully monitored. For example, his pilot’s seat was a wicker chair in order to save weight to carry more gas. Because he could not see straight ahead due to the multiple gas tanks surrounding his cramped space, and using the stars over the Atlantic and a compass which he could only see by using a mirror stuck in place by chewing gum borrowed from a bystander at take-off, Lindbergh reached the Irish coast after 28 hours of perilous flight, amazingly only 3 miles off course as the USA and the whole world watched and waited in anticipation of this momentous event. Six hours later, at Le Bourget airport in Paris on May 21,1927, Lindbergh landed at 10.24 pm (33½ hours after departure) to a huge crowd of 150,000 with traffic jams leading to the airport with miles and miles of vehicles locking off the highways to Le Bourget. Within 6 minutes, because of the revolution in telecommunications worldwide, Charles Lindbergh became the first modern celebrity, as the great news catapulted across the world  and back to the USA where huge crowds gathered in Times Square in New York to begin celebrations and make this young flier the most famous man in the world.

Seven days later, he said goodbye to Paris by flying over the city, doing stunts with loops, spins and rolls from his barnstorming stunt-flying for the millions of French citizens crowding the streets of that great city and cheering his every move.  From that historic day, Lindbergh, wherever he travelled, was mobbed and feted by all countries, given the highest honours which could be bestowed. His return to the USA on a warship which President Coolidge provided to bring him home, was marked by the biggest ticker tape parade in New York history and great celebrations throughout the USA.

My mother, Janet Jagan, told me that she remembered that at 8 years old, she and her family went to the top of a building, along with thousands of citizens in Chicago to see Lindbergh fly his plane over that city, doing stunts and aerial manoeuvers when he toured America after that great Atlantic crossing. He covered many American cities with fantastic stunt flying  and was given huge receptions everywhere.

Editor, Charles Lindbergh, after that historic flight, went on to become a man involved in many endeavours throughout his very busy life; he played a crucial role in the development of the artificial heart; he played a major role in environmental protection, way before it’s time, and the protection of  traditional societies, even living in village huts with the Masai in Africa and tribes in the Philippines. He played a major role in the development of rocketry through his close relationship and sponsorship of Dr Goddard, the father of rocketry and the man who put America on the path to space exploration. He was a test pilot before World War II and served as a fighter pilot in the Pacific in 1942-43, bombing Japanese targets and shooting down Japanese planes in aerial combat, even though he was 42 years old by that time (younger fighter pilots in the US air force were amazed that his aerial skills were sharper than theirs). He wrote two best-selling books , We and The Spirit of St. Louis, and he mapped and detailed from the air, important Mayan and Aztec ruins, not easily reached by land ‒ a great service to anthropology at that time and a tribute to his belief in the importance of ancient civilizations.

But, Editor, the great achievement of Charles Lindbergh after his historic flight, was his commitment to air travel and that is why he played a great role as a Pan American Airlines director by setting new standards for airports and new planes throughout the USA and in Asia, Europe and Africa, even as far as Australia.

He personally flew all over the Caribbean from Trinidad to Bermuda and south to Venezuela, setting up airports and air transporting networks during the 1930s and that is how Cheddi Jagan, a graduate dentist from Northwestern University in Chicago was able to get home to Guyana on a Pan Am clipper. Lindbergh involved himself even to the level of passenger comfort, often sitting in the economy class to find out and make meals and seating more attractive for air travel, and his air travel mileage over the years was never matched by anyone in his lifetime.

So, Editor, airline service for the Caribbean started with Lindbergh and  USA commitment to air travel worldwide, and with our present fiasco in air travel, we have to return to the days when US airlines gave us in this region, good service with reasonable prices for travel. US air services are the among the best in the world and we should do our utmost to bring one or two of them back to create an environment of reliability, good service and decent prices for all Guyanese. Let the Americans build our runway, our airport and service Guyanese with their excellent planes.

We deserve better.

Yours faithfully,
Cheddi (Joey) Jagan (Jr)

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