Miracles do not strike twice in the same place. Guyana enjoyed good fortune last week when a Caribbean Airlines plane crash-landed at the airport; the next time we are not going to be that fortunate.
The probability of a major accident occurring in the near future at our main airport is very remote. But that is not something that one leaves to chance. The government therefore has to begin to take all the necessary steps to minimise any dangers that may exist. It has to act and act with urgency.
Had that aircraft not stopped where it did, it may have crashed into some of the houses that are located just outside of the perimeter fence. A lot of persons would have died both inside and outside of the airplane.
There are numerous illegal structures adjacent to our airport. And efforts by the government to remove these have been met with stout resistance, including political opposition. Yet, the very persons who are going to condemn the government, should a major disaster occur in the future, are going to be the very persons who created an uproar when the hammer was being brought down on those squatters who reside around the perimeter of the airport.
The Guyana government must by now know that the report into the Caribbean Airlines crash is going to have some negative comments about the closeness of structures to the airstrip. Whatever the causes of the recent crash-landing, the report is not likely to ignore those squatters, and therefore the government is going to face serious sanctions, including a possible shutdown of the nation’s airport if it does not address the problems of safety outside the perimeter fence.
All over the world there are structures surrounding the perimeters of major airports. But these are large airports and therefore there are buffer zones within the airport perimeter so that even if something goes wrong, there is adequate space. Yet it has been known that aircraft have crash-landed through the perimeter fences of major international airports and ended up in traffic.
Those large airports can afford to have developments outside of their perimeter because they have adequate buffer zones and it is only in unusual situations that this fence is broached. In the case of Guyana, we cannot say the same. We have a relatively small airport, and therefore, if larger planes are going to be brought here there has to be expansion, and if there is to be expansion, the buffer zones have to be pushed beyond the airport fence.
Preventing this expansion is a number of unauthorized structures. It is a disgrace that Guyana has built such a fine terminal, one of the best in the Caribbean, yet as you drive alongside the airport, there are unsightly shops located near to the entrance to the departure area. These illegal structures need to be pulled down.
Hundreds of millions was spent building a modern terminal. Yet beside it are a few unsightly squatters. To make matters worse there is actually a road running alongside the perimeter fence, and it is public road, which means anyone can use it. It is presently used by squatters for ingress and egress to their homes.
Roads that skirt the perimeter fences of airports should be owned by the airport authority, and should be strictly controlled so as to deter persons from squatting alongside the roads. These roads are critical for access to various points of the runway and as such should be closed to the public.
The government has indirectly encouraged squatting, by first, not having a good surveillance system in place to detect such squatting when it takes place, and to immediately move against the squatters. The government has also indirectly encouraged squatting by rewarding squatters with government house lots whenever they have to be removed.
Many persons have squatted knowing that even if they have to remove they will obtain a government lot. Many feel that the easiest way to obtain a government house lot is to squat.
The persons unlawfully occupying lands near to the airport have no chance at all of gaining legal titles to those lands. They will never obtain prescriptive rights to those lands because such practices are now outlawed.
As such, the government must begin to bring order to the area surrounding the airport. They should start this process by serving notice on those persons illegally occupying lands near to the departure area. The notice should call on any illegal squatters to dismantle those structures.
The persons should be given adequate time, say one year, to do so, because when that report of the Caribbean Airlines crash-landing comes out, it will address that issue and the international aviation authorities will demand a safer perimeter.
The government should also permanently shut off public access to the road that runs alongside the airstrip. This should be converted to a private road through which only authorised vehicles can enter.
That will obviously be a problem for those persons who are living alongside that road at the moment, but they can be allowed for a period of one year to use the roadway pending alternative arrangements being made for them to be removed.
The government should not offer alternative lands to any squatter. This will only encourage further squatting. After this year all those in close proximity to the airport should be removed, because the next time an incident such as what happened recently at the airport occurs, Guyana is not going to be as lucky.
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