As 2020 approaches and expectations of Guyana’s oil production commencement mounts, there is a lot of chit and chatter over the usage of anticipated oil revenues by Guyana’s government. This is a healthy expression, which with the exception of bent pessimists and dogmatists, shows that many Guyanese are objective and genuinely wish to see the best outcomes for their country.
One of the areas, I believe, that should be considered for funding is the re-establishment of a national flag-carrying airline.
Those who use air transportation, particularly for travelling in and out of Guyana, can attest to the ransom-like situation Guyana finds itself in by the limited number of service providers.
As early as 1939, even before Guyana’s Independence, a national airline was founded by Art Williams and Harry Wendt. The airline, called British Guiana Airways, was a private venture but received subsidies from the colonial government at that time. From 1963, Guyana Airways coined its name, and continued operations until 2001. There were several factors surrounding the rise and closure of the Guyana Airways Corporation (GAC), which I will not venture to detail here. However, like the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) and most other failed corporations, poor management, distortion and financial irregularities were the cited impediments that affected GAC’s viability.
Our two proximate Caricom neighbours, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago, have both retained their national carriers albeit with some adjustments since 1964 and 1961, respectively.
In 1964, Surinaamse Luchtvaart Maatschappij (SLM) – Suriname Airways ‒ which started operations, became and still is Suriname’s flag carrier. In 1961, Trinidad and Tobago’s government acquired 90% shares in the British West Indian Airlines (BWIA) or ‘Bee Wee’, making it that nation’s national airline. The airline was later incorporated in 2006 as Caribbean Airlines, with a fleet of over 15 aircraft.
Caribbean Airlines has for years maintained a monopolistic vice on international air transport on their Guyana leg, much to the disadvantage and quiet displeasure of many Guyanese.
Guyana has seen the entrance and exit of several international carriers, with some big names like Delta Airlines (USA) and Varig (Brazil). The reasons for vacillating trends among international carriers that attempted to serve Guyana vary.
No one should genuinely dispute the fact that there has been a lingering void of consistent, reliable, respectable and affordable air transportation since the cessation of the GAC. The need for a national airline will not just restore the nation’s pride in that sector, but create the type of competition that will relieve Guyanese travellers from the imposed exorbitant fares of some service providers to and from this destination.
In this regard, it is timely for government to consider such an investment, either jointly with local stakeholders or as an independent state entity.