Ill-fated Cuban plane had been grounded in Guyana over safety infractions

Rescue team members work in the wreckage of a Boeing 737 plane that crashed in the agricultural area of Boyeros, around 20 km (12 miles) south of Havana, shortly after taking off from Havana’s main airport in Cuba, May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

Following the discovery of a number of safety infractions, the aircraft which crashed shortly after take-off in Cuba last Friday, leaving 110 persons dead, had been grounded by the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) last year.

“We had noticed that they were taking longer to take off and that alerted us that something was amiss and checks where made… [and] it was found they were loading the plane with more than the maximum weight…,” Minister of Public Infrastructure David Patterson told Stabroek News on Sunday.

Less than one month after Cuba’s national carrier, Cubana de Aviacion, began renting the over three-decades-old Boeing 737 from Mexican charter company Damojh, the aircraft crashed into a field last Friday, shortly after take-off from Havana on route to Holguin.

The plane, bearing registration XA-UHZ and used by the Honduras-based airline Easy Sky through a lease agreement with Global Aerolineas of Mexico, was stopped from flying here for a period last year April until it had addressed the safety infractions that were discovered.

Upon checking the plane and finding that the maximum weight quota was not adhered to, Patterson said that GCAA officials also discovered that the aircraft had “also missed a few of its maintenance schedules” and its owners were immediately notified that it would be grounded until all safety rules and regulations were met.

This resulted in an estimated 433 Cuban passengers being stranded at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA), Timehri with many bemoaning the fact that the airline was not communicating with them when they would be able to leave.

GCAA Director-General Lieutenant Colonel (ret’d) Egbert Field, in a statement, had explained that the safety deficiencies were uncovered after the Authority’s inspectors conducted oversight inspections, following reports on non-standard procedures by Easy Sky airline, and that the suspension of its operations were necessary.

Taking the concern of the stranded passengers into consideration, GCAA decided to grant temporary permission to the Honduran airline but had stressed that several short-term safety deficiencies must be addressed before the recommencement of its operations.

Following the rectification of the short-term safety deficiencies by Easy Sky, Field had announced that approval was granted for the airline to conduct limited operations under the oversight of the GCAA to effect the repatriation of the stranded passengers.

The GCAA had promised that it would continue to monitor the operations of Easy Sky until all the passengers were transported, while Field emphasised that the agency remained committed to ensuring that air travel, in and out of Guyana, was conducted in the safest possible manner, in keeping with international best practices.

The airline would remedy the safety complaints and continued flights here for additional six months until its one year contract expired in October, 2017. It never applied for a renewal or returned to Guyana.

Easy Sky had been first introduced to Guyana in October of 2016 by its local partner, Roraima Airways. At the time of its introduction to Guyana’s aviation sector, the airline had expressed its commitment to forging reliable and sustained relationship with Guyana by creating an air link to Cuba and countries in Central America.

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