The 15 acres of land at Ogle, on the East Coast of Demerara, where the corporate head office of ExxonMobil Guyana is to be constructed, are non-airside and would not affect applications by aircraft operators for hangars or other space, according to Ogle Airport Inc. (OAI) spokesman Kit Nascimento.
“Exxon is leasing non-airside land. Aircraft operators are interested in leasing airside land. Airside land is land which is secured for aircraft operations. It is operational. Non-airside land is in support of it,” Nascimento told Stabroek News in an interview. “It is quite wrong and unfair to suggest that operators are being denied land in favour of Exxon. They are not… In fact, there is about 150 acres of out of the overall 400 odd acres which can be developed. Sixty of those acres are airside land. There is a very specific process. There is a land use committee and a specific process for obtaining lands; both airside and non-airside,” he added.
Two weeks ago, this newspaper reported ExxonMobil Guyana’s Senior Director, Public and Government Affairs, Deedra Moe as saying that it was advancing its plans to construct an office building near the Ogle airport for long-term use.
Since then, NABI and KCL Oilfield Construction Services Guyana announced that they have been awarded the contract for the headquarters’ construction.
However, local aircraft operators, who have spoken on condition of anonymity, have claimed that they and a group of potential investors are being unfairly treated by OAI as they were astounded to learn that ExxonMobil was granted land even as their application for land is still pending.
“Exxon came in and in two years got a lease and are getting ready to build. Yet you have operators here applying years ago and still have not been able to expand or [have] new companies set up on available areas,” one operator said.
Nascimento, who criticised operators hiding behind anonymity, said they should also explain that they applied for airside land and not the non-aside type of land that Exxon was granted.
Along with Chairman of the Land Use Committee, Engineer Marcel Gaskin, Nascimento explained that the airport would not survive on its operators fees alone, which is why the utilisation of the land is critical to the profitability and development of the airport. “Obviously, Esso building their headquarters at the airport is an extremely important source of revenue for the airport,” Nascimento said.
Nascimento added that there is still non-airside land available for lease to interested developers who meet the criteria set out by OAI and conform to civil aviation and other codes. As a result, OAI will soon be writing to local operators to solicit investments for available space. “We are about to write all operators, that we know of, that have not applied for land, to make expressions of interest. All, everyone, setting out the conditions I explained,” he said.
He explained that to obtain an agreement for lease of airside land, operators have to meet a rigid set of requirements.
“First of all, there is an expression of interest process. They have to be considered by the Land Use Committee. If the Land Use Committee believes that the person or persons are deserving and qualifies, they are then issued an application form. You have to have a security clearance from GCAA [Guyana Civil Aviation Authority] and from the Ministry of Security. You have to be able to state the number of aircraft that you have, whether it is one or ten and provide full details of that aircraft, including its type of operations. Those are the relatively easy conditions. You have to provide proof that you are able to construct and build your facility/ proof of funding. That proof of funding provides a realistic commitment to construct and build on airside. What we are trying to do is we don’t want people applying for land and then just speculating. That doesn’t help the airport’s interest at all that you apply for a piece of land and hold up the process,” he said.
“When you apply for a house lot, you have X amount of time to build. We want to be able to see that they are capable of building. We don’t them to sit on it and be speculating and then trying to rent it out to somebody else. That is not the purpose of the land. We don’t want you to start construction and can’t complete it and then it becomes an eyesore,” Gaskin added.
Underscoring the reason financial proof that the operator can build, Nascimento pointed out that space was very limited at the airport. He further said, “You have to establish that your aircraft has the requisite liability insurance. Liability insurance demands very heavy fees. If your plane runs into somebody else’s plane or a Liat plane, it has to be covered otherwise the airport would have to pay the bill. I suppose what I am saying is that if you are a 10 airplane operator or a one aircraft operator, it is an expensive business. The risk is the same.”
He added, “Safety is an important factor and the most critical factor in operating an international airport. Part of the problem has been the conversion over the years from a tiny little domestic facility to a full-fledged first class airport and the rules and regulations are very much different and very demanding. It is not a fly by night airport. If you are going to operate a facility on airside, you have to establish that your plane or planes are going to be properly maintained. You have to provide a contract with a professional maintenance operator. You have to provide an operating plan, which is a sort of business plan. This is what is required at the stage of application. Let us say you satisfied all of that on your application form, your application then goes to the Land Use Committee and then the board for their approvals.”
For non-airside land, Nascimento said the application has to be compatible with aviation industry development. “And that is set out in very great detail in our lease agreement,” he said.
Nascimento stressed that all applications must be dealt with in a fair and equitable manner and OAI commits to this. “You might have limited space and too many applications. Does the big guy get it and the small guy not get it? No. the principle that we apply is [the] ‘first come, first served’ principle,” he said.
Gaskin was quick to point out what OAI’s “first come, first served” principle means.
“When you make an EoI is not first come. First come starts with the successful completion of the application. The date of completion of the application, in all respects. That commits you to a state of starting construction of the facility. If you don’t start on the date you say you will start, you lose the place,” he said.
And pointing to local operations, JAGs Aviation and Hopkinson Mining Aviation, which have successfully applied in the last few years and commenced building, Nascimento said it was proof that no operator was being stymied. “It is not like we have excluded everybody and Exxon comes along and says they want land and they get it,” he said. “Again, I make the distinction that the land that Exxon applied for has nothing to do with airside land,” he quickly added.