Minister of Public Infrastructure David Patterson is aiming for Category 1 aviation status by 2018 but acknowledged that this is going to be an uphill battle due to the lack of technical skills.
“We are deficient in so many areas…we are 44 per cent compliant, quite a few of it has to do with technical skills available in Guyana,” he told Stabroek News in a recent interview. Last year February, Ogle International Airport boss Anthony Mekdeci had said that Guyana’s aviation sector is 95% compliant with the requirements needed to attain a Category One status, which would see carriers from Guyana flying directly to the United States of America.
Patterson told Stabroek News that help is necessary to achieve the Category 1 rating. While Guyana once held Category 1 status, it was downgraded by the United States’ FAA in 2002 as the country had failed to meet specified regulations. According to the FAA, in order to maintain a Category 1 rating, countries with air carriers that fly to the United States must adhere to the safety standards of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the United Nations’ technical agency for aviation that establishes international standards and recommended practices for aircraft operations and maintenance.
For those countries rated under Category 2, it means that the FAA has “assessed this country’s civil aviation authority (CAA) and determined that it does not provide safety oversight of its air carrier operators in accordance with the minimum safety oversight standards established by the ICAO.”
According to Patterson, the previous PPP/C administration was not serious enough about the issue. He said that simple requirements were never adhered to such as providing technical persons with cell phones; “it was just never taken seriously.”
In 2013, then Director-General of the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) Zulfikar Mohammed, had said that Guyana will have to determine if it will be cost-effective to take up Trinidad and Tobago’s offer to aid the country in regaining its Category 1 aviation status.
Patterson told Stabroek News that lobbying for and establishing a comprehensive national transportation strategy inclusive of air, land and maritime travel has first to be established. He said that he has tasked himself with completing such a strategy, and currently the framework is there for aviation but it needs to be built upon.
“In an absence of a national transportation policy, we don’t have regulations, transportation regulations. What we have is laws, which is drinking and driving, enforceable police laws, we don’t have a policy and without a policy it hampers everything,” he said.
“Without a policy, we are designing without any sort of long-term vision and you can see that especially in the hinterland regions; you [design] a bridge to take 20 tonnes and you make no idea to look to see what the village, the community is going to need and so we have 100 tonne trucks literally every single day going over 20 tonne bridges,” he declared.
Patterson also suggested that some local airlines are not operating up to standard and would have to be shut down if there is a clampdown. However, he did not say whether government would embark on a clampdown considering that passengers’ lives would be at stake.
According to the minister, inspections of private inland flights and checking of pilot logs among other routine procedures such as flight plans, needed to be checked. He said that one of the largest problems is that if there is an industry wide clampdown, aviation growth may be halted. “The problem when you tighten the system [is], certain players will fall out of the sky so to say,” Patterson stated.
Patterson also told Stabroek News that in recent conversations with the Aircraft Owners Association of Guyana, it was stated that the development of hinterland airstrips is necessary to receive the Category One rating. He noted that as Minister, he has not officially visited a majority of the hinterland airstrips but as a member of the opposition he has, and their condition continues to be alarming.
The minister related that for many of the hinterland communities, the airstrip is in the middle of the village and, as such, it cannot be easily restricted. Because of this inclusionary association, he said, when it came to upgrading and maintenance, the fact that the hinterland airstrips were smack dab in the middle of day-to-day activities posed a problem.
Patterson stated that the association has said that bigger airstrips will reduce the cost per traveller, but costs are the major impediment. He said that more discussions need to happen and private companies would need to understand the financial role they will have to play in the expansion of hinterland airstrips as well as their maintenance.