Further legal action has been promised by the National Air Transport Association (NATA) to stop the renaming of the Ogle Airport in an increasingly bitter struggle that has also drawn in President David Granger.
Having lost a court bid on Tuesday to stop the renaming of the aerodrome to the Eugene F Correia International Airport (EFCIA), NATA, which groups the smaller operators at the facility, summoned a press conference and vowed to continue the fight against the renaming of the airport which is officially set for Monday.
Following the press conference at the Private Sector Commission on Waterloo Street, Ogle Airport Inc (OAI) issued a statement charging that NATA members had been aware of the plans for the renaming and that they had wrongfully accused the Chairman of OAI, Michael Correia, a relative of the deceased Eugene Correia, of lobbying for the name change.
NATA yesterday said that if efforts to appeal Tuesday’s decision fail at the local courts it will petition the Caribbean Court of Justice. A notice of appeal to the decision has been filed but no date has yet been given when the appeal will be heard.
“It is quite possible that this decision can be reversed on appeal and of course you know whatever happens locally, in terms of the law, does not remain local. There is the Caribbean Court of Justice and there would be quite some merit, depending what happens at the (Guyana) Court of Appeal for this matter to be taken further,” Legal Counsel for NATA, Christopher Ram told the press conference yesterday.
A majority of the operators who control around a third of the equity in OAI are opposed to the renaming. The operators maintain that the renaming will give an unfair advantage to the Correia group which is a major player in the company running the airport and operates Trans Guyana Airways.
The controversy had its origins on September 17 last year when President Granger suggested the renaming while commissioning an aircraft for Trans Guyana Airways. Granger has said that he believed if the airport was renamed EFCIA, it would be paying tribute to the late aviator.
NATA subsequently objected and put on record that it believed the name would give Trans Guyana Airways a marketing advantage as the Correia name is linked to that operation. OAI however restated yesterday that NATA’s objection came after its members had known of the proposal for some time and some of its members had even voted in favour.
During last week’s airing of his weekly television programme, President Granger fired back at NATA calling them “small minded” and petty.
The president acknowledged that he did meet some of the persons who objected to the renaming but said he continues to be disappointed.
“I listened to the criticism and I did meet with some of the persons who objected…but I continue to be disappointed that they would put personality in front of nationality. That they would put petty personal interests in front of the national interest. It is my view that in the national interest that the airport be named after a son of the soil who has done a lot for Guyana”, Granger asserted.
Yesterday, the group stressed that the “Proposal to rename is too whimsical and capricious and NATA will continue to oppose it until it is reviewed and withdrawn.”
“The fact of the matter is that the preponderant majority of aircraft owners are opposed vehemently to the renaming of this airport using the Correia name and have indicated this in writing to the relevant authorities. The NATA membership represent over 80% of the aircraft owners and operators and is extremely disappointed that notwithstanding these protestations the president appears to be stubbornly proceeding with this ridiculous name change,” President of NATA and CEO of Air Services Limited Annette Arjoon read from a statement.
“Everybody is aware and those who are not, now ought to know that that the Correia Group dominates the airport management through their manipulation of the board and management and is one of the Operators at Ogle. Placing their name on the airport would give the, a distinct advantage over the other operators with whom they are competing for business. This is like placing Caribbean Airlines’ name on the Cheddi Jagan Airport or putting Delta at J.F.K. There can be no logical reason for placing Correia’s name at the airport and moreover the proposal to use the name of E.F. Correia, a former politician from the 50’s and 60’s is entirely preposterous,” she added.
But Minister of Public Infrastructure, David Patterson under whose purview aviation falls, told the press yesterday that naming the airport after Eugene Correia transcends his political work as the decision also pays homage to a notable person of Portuguese descent.
“There has been several press statements about the renaming of the airport…what is being attempted here is us giving identification and recognition to a worthy Guyanese. You know anybody growing up the late 80s early 90s, the only names they are associated with in Guyana is Forbes Burnham and Cheddi Jagan. We have six different races in this country and we have to use whatever means of recognizing other persons. The questions around it seems to be related to Mr. Correia’s ancestors and that is totally unrelated,” Patterson asserted.
Further, he reasoned “We renamed the Arthur Chung (Convention Centre) to recognize a noteworthy person of Chinese descent. This here is to recognize a Guyanese of Portuguese descent…so we can’t just restrict our identification to the persons that we know Cheddi Jagan and Forbes Burnham. So many other persons, so many others contributed to what we are today.”
Government’s rationale doesn’t hold water with NATA.
“NATA demands that this proposal be withdrawn forthwith and for consultation to commence on whether to rename the airport at all and if so what would be an alternative suitable name. At the present time we do not see the urgent necessity of proceeding with any name change particularity one that would give one of the operators a competitive advantage over the other operators,” NATA stated.
Yesterday, OAI provided a chronology of events to make its case that NATA members had been aware of what was transpiring from the inception.
“On 19th September, 2015, on the occasion of Trans Guyana Airways launching its Beechcraft Aircraft, President Brig. Granger announced his suggestion to rename Ogle Airport the Eugene F. Correia International Airport…
“In their court filing of the Injunction, Air Services, Roraima and Wings claimed falsely that Mr. Michael Correia had strongly lobbied the President to propose the name change…
“On 28th September, 2015, immediately following the President’s public announcement for the renaming of the Airport, in his capacity as Chairman of OAI, Mr. Michael Correia wrote OAI’s shareholders referring to the President’s announcement asking for their ‘no objection’ to the President’s proposal and received by return letter, the agreement of all the shareholders, except that of Mr. Mazahar Ally of Air Services Limited.
“On 30th September, 2015, the President’s proposal for the name change of the Airport was placed on the Agenda of an OAI Board Meeting. The Board unanimously approved that OAI proceed to implement the President’s proposal for the name change. Mr. Mahazar Ally, representing Air Services Limited and Mr. Ronald Reece, representing Wings Aviation Limited, were present and voted in favour of the name change.
“Having received the unanimous support of the majority of the Board and the majority of the shareholders of OAI, the Chairman of OAI, Mr. Michael Correia, on 14th October, 2015, wrote President Granger (copied to the OAI Board) informing him that his proposal had received the support of the Board and shareholders and advised him of the administrative and regulatory process involving the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority, the International Aviation and Transportation Association and the International Civil Aviation Organisation which would be necessary.
“On 22nd October, 2015, Mr. Michael Correia wrote the Director of the GCAA, again copied to all the members of the Board, informing of the name change request for the purpose of the Authority updating the Guyana Aeronautical Information Publication and that OAI would be proceeding to amend the relevant technical documents.
“It was subsequent to and only after the action taken by OAI and the relevant aviation authorities to begin the process for implementing the name change that Air Services Limited, Jags Aviation Limited and Hinterland Aviation wrote indicating withdrawal of their support for the name change.
“On 6th November, 2015, President Granger responded to OAI’s letter of 14th October, 2015, requesting that OAI inform him when the necessary requirements for the name change had been met so that the date for the renaming of the Airport can be determined.
“On 18th April, 2016, the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority advised Ogle Airport that the Ministry of Public Infrastructure, in accordance with the provisions of Article 24 of the OAI Lease Agreement, has no objection to renaming of the Airport and that they were to ensure the smooth transition of the name change.
“Ogle Airport was then informed by the Ministry of the Presidency that President Granger had chosen 9th May, 2016, for the occasion for the renaming of the Airport by him and which will now take place”.