The 2015 discovery of oil and gas 100 miles offshore Guyana and the subsequent activities had been pushing a number of Government agencies to the limit.
The Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Maritime Administration Department (MARAD) are but a few.
GCAA, the regulator for the country’s airspace, especially has been under pressure to up the game.
In 2015, prior to oil, Guyana had only two helicopters registered locally.
In August, there were 13 helicopters registered with the majority of them to Bristow, a British company that has its corporate offices in Texas, and which flies oil workers to the Guyana offshore well-sites currently being developed.
The presence of the helicopters has underscored the importance of GCAA building capacity to conduct more inspections.
Recently, Guyana had to turn to Ghana for help to certify as safe, the helideck on the Liza Destiny, the country’s first Floating Production Storage and Offloading (FPSO) vessels in Guyana’s territory.
Failure for a timely certification of the vessel would have derailed ExxonMobil’s timeline to start operations as helicopters would have been unable to land.
Yesterday, at Providence, East Bank Demerara, behind the cricket stadium, the sod was turned for the construction of a state-of-the-art headquarters for GCAA.
For years now, the authority had no permanent home. It moved from several locations, including Prashad Nagar, Farley House and Colgrain House. It is now located in a property on High Street, Kingston.
The Providence location, on 10 acres, will be the permanent home of the authority and will boast a green energy building for inspectors and the administration; gym, cafeteria, training center and even flight simulators.
It is plan to also even include dorms and a museum eventually.
The sod-turning would said to be an important milestone as it marked the end of a search that took years for a home for the authority.
Present at the ceremony were Minister of Infrastructure, David Patterson; Minister within the Ministry, Jaipaul Sharma; Minister with responsibility for housing, Annette Ferguson; GCAA’s Director-General, Lt. Col (Ret’d) Egbert Field; Chairman, Lt. Col (Ret’d), Larry London, board members; Chinese Ambassador, Cui Jianchu and others.
According to the Director-General, on assuming duties in 2015, he had warned staffers to be ready for a tsunami that would come with the oil and gas discovery.
Since then the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has certified Guyana, during inspection of the Timehri and Ogle airports after not finding anything to fault.
In addition to bringing down the accident rates, there were increased training and even the establishment of a drone unit at the authority.
GCAA’s compliance with international requirements has moved dramatically from 44 to almost 65 percent and it is likely an audit now will find that Guyana is boasting a compliance about 80 percent, Field boasted.
He told reporters that the construction is expected to take 18 months once there are not hiccups.
Currently, while financing has not been closed for the $1.2B project, Field is not worried.
He is not ruling out the Chinese and other donors coming on board.
Currently, GCAA’s lease in the Kingston property is costing the authority $42M annually.
The three-year lease expires in 2021.
According to Chairman, he has been involved in the aviation sector since in the 70s when the offices of Civil Aviation were housed in the Guyana Post Office Corporation, on Robb Street.
GCAA in recent years attempted to build headquarters in Liliendaal, and then Turkeyen and even at the Ogle airport. Court cases and other factors thwarted the attempts.
He said that the Providence lands, on 10 acres, will be ideal.
London also made a pitch for more lands to accommodate an authority that will be growing in leaps and bounds.
Meanwhile, Minister Ferguson, whose portfolio at the Ministry of Public Infrastructure had included aviation, disclosed that it was to the credit of GCAA it was able to negotiate a price of $25M for the 10 acres.
Minister Sharma, in his remarks, said that his ministry and GCAA is cognizant of the huge cost of leasing the building at High Street where GCAA is located currently.
He called on China to come on board and offer grant financing.
According to the minister, there are real challenges faced by GCAA that will have to now include certification of helidecks and accommodation for more aircrafts that are not necessarily fixed wings ones.
He said that it is the aim of the government to achieve a Category 1 status, which allows Guyana to have flights directly to the US.
Currently, flights to the US have to originate elsewhere.
According to Minister Patterson, he, too, has taken note of the constant move by GCAA from one temporary headquarters to the next.
He disclosed that at one time, the old Customs House on Main Street was contemplated but approval from the Finance Ministry was not forthcoming.
He pointed out that aviation and maritime will be expected to take on new dimensions in coming years.
It was disclosed that while Guyana has 13 helicopters flying the airspace, it is expected to grow to about 20, this year, thanks to oil.
By next year, the number of helicopters could touch 30 with about 75 expected by 2025.
Patterson was also proud that Guyana has one of the most modern aviation laws in the region.
With the eyes of the world on Guyana, the minister said that airlines like the Virgin Atlantic have expressed interest.
There will be others.
He urged GCAA to continuously adapt to the changes that are happening.
The minister also announced intentions to place the offices of a port authority and an airport authority right in the Providence area.
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