Minister of State Joseph Harmon last Thursday dispelled ongoing concerns about the aged aircraft being procured for the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) and he assured that they have been “tried and tested” and are a good investment.
Responding to questions during a post-Cabinet press briefing, Harmon disclosed that a GDF team inspected two of the aircraft in Brazil and returned with a “very positive report.” He said that he has seen a preliminary report and it “looks good”. The name of the Brazilian company supplying the aircraft was not immediately available.
The National Assembly approved $484.2 million in extra budgetary funds to facilitate the acquisition of four reconditioned aircraft—two Skyvans and two Britten-Norman Islanders—for the GDF.
It was Harmon who disclosed in response to questions from the opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) that the Skyvans will be brought from Belgium through Liberty Aviation, an American company located in North Carolina, while the Islanders will come from Brazil.
Checks by this newspaper revealed that Liberty Aviation was formed on August 29, 1997 and is being managed by Tony De Bruyn. The company’s mailing address is 235 North Edgeworth Street, Greensboro, North Carolina.
Harmon stressed that people don’t “sell them (the aircraft) when they have them,” and he noted that the ones being procured are “tried and tested.” According to him, based on what those who inspected the aircraft in Brazil said, it was a “very, very good buy.”
The manufacturing of both models has ceased. The Islanders were first manufactured in 1976, while Skyvans were first manufactured in 1977. The planes will be used mainly for troop transport, parachuting and cargo services.
Former security minister Clement Rohee, who was one of the opposition parliamentarians who quizzed Harmon, said that he still has mixed feelings about the procurement of the aircraft.
“On one hand, it’s needed but on the other hand, all those questions, age, availability of parts and personnel and its deviation from the green agenda …that I raised in Parliament will be ongoing issues which should attract the attention of the people who are buying them,” he said.
For him, the cost associated with the purchase is a primary concern, given the expected maintenance and potential difficulty in sourcing parts since the aircraft are no longer being produced.
Responding to questions from Rohee, Harmon pointed out that though the aircraft are no longer being produced, many countries the world over still use them and therefore parts would be available. He later disclosed that there are seven trained and certified engineers who are ready to take control of the aircraft.
Asked if he will re-engage Parliament on the issue given his mixed feelings, Rohee said that the parliamentary oversight committee on the security sector is the place where those questions could come up.
Rohee reiterated that while the Skyvan is “a good plane,” they are not being produced anymore. He described them as “workhorses” that are useful for “lifting load and things like that.” He noted that this is one of the models that will be useful for Guyana “with respect to the airstrips and so on.”
Harmon told Parliament that both models being procured will work well on the local airstrips, most of which are short, as they allow for short take offs and landings.
While the four aircraft will be assigned to the GDF, other Joint Services agencies will have access to them to conduct aerial surveillance. The purchase of the aircraft was a decision taken at the level of the Defence Board.