Our airports and the people involved
Last week the management of Ogle Airport commissioned the extended runway. It was a remarkable event, because it allowed people to understand that there was a time when the government was pondering closing down the Ogle Airport.
When I heard this, I immediately assumed that the reason had to do with the fact that someone had recognised that lands in the area had become prime property. People had seen the establishment of Pradoville, with houses the likes of which are found in the most affluent neighbourhoods in some of the rich countries.
Ogle was initially for small planes and it served a useful purpose when the Ogle Sugar Estate was operational. Pretty soon it dawned on people that operating out of Ogle was not only saving time for the people who wanted to travel by air to the various parts of the country. For one, it is close to the city where most of the population lives. Getting to the airport is cheap and time is saved.
Every small aircraft owner has a base at Ogle and many have kept buying aircraft because the business is profitable. With the development of the gold industry – largely because of the high price of gold – the Ogle airport could do nothing more than boom.
There was a time when public servants who worked in the remote parts of Guyana relied exclusively on the small aircraft operating out of Ogle. There was one problem; after daylight the airport was all but useless. There were no landing lights. But sometimes ingenuity played a great part in saving lives.
I remember on one occasion a flight was coming in with a badly injured person. It could have landed at Timehri and the patient transported to the city. However, the person was so badly injured that he needed to get to hospital very quickly. Ogle was therefore the best landing site. Helicopters were just not around.
People parked their vehicles with lights blazing at the extremes of the runway. The pilot brought in the aircraft. Those memories flashed through my mind when the airport commissioned its extended strip. I also remembered a case of a large commercial aircraft barely avoiding landing there. How that error occurred I cannot say.
Then my thoughts switched to the country’s international airport. We have been spending a lot of money to make that airport really international. I must admit that the arrival and departure lounges are modern, a far cry from the days when I first travelled. Carousels have been introduced. People cannot even remember the days when there was none.
Now I hear that the airport is inadequate; that more people are travelling to and from Guyana. One airline recently reported that the inadequacy of space has led to its aircraft leaving very late and causing people to miss connections. The authorities say that they will be tearing down this structure.
Just a few years ago, the government spent US$30 million to rehabilitate the airport. There was expenditure on landing lights, on communication equipment and on other things that are necessary for an airport, like radar.
The runway was left the way it has been from the inception, to the extent that some aircraft simply cannot land there. This is something that has made Guyana a backwater. I always wanted to see an extended runway and this seems to be on the cards. With the airport extension would come the tearing down of what currently exists for a terminal.
This is being done at great cost—some US$150 million. Had this been a planned activity there would have been no problem. But I now hear that it was only undertaken because some Chinese Vice Premier came through the region with tons of money and Guyana had to find a project.
I am not sure that Governments plan programmes on the whims and fancies of a man waving money. But Guyana seems to have done this. The money has been described as a soft loan which the taxpayers would have to repay.
I have seen the plan and I know about the contractor who has come out of China. I have also seen the problems that could originate. For one, Guyana must find the labour. Failing this, the Chinese would descend on Guyana in droves.
Has the government worked out the rate at which the workers would be paid or as is the case of the Russians in the bauxite industry, the workers would be left to the mercies of the employer? There are other areas of query. Did we conduct a feasibility study to ascertain the minimum size of airport that we would need?
What I do know is that this project was never one that saw the authorities taking the public into its confidence. Some called it a secret deal and perhaps it was. The society must now sit back and await the final product.
Needless to say, I have seen airport projects in the region and even in the United States. I know that in the case of Trinidad, some of the people involved are in jail. The jail followed an investigation of the project. Some people secured kickbacks.
In our case, there has been no investigation, because we are people who accept what is presented to us. I still believe that our airport rehabilitation project could have been executed for less.