The aviation sector of any country is critical to its growth and development, facilitating the movement of the travelling public for business and leisure.
While significant investments have been made, over the years, to boost the capacity and efficiency of Guyana’s primary port of entry, the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA), since taking office in 2015, the David Granger administration undertook to ensure that the CJIA Expansion Project comes to fruition.
The President believes that with a modern airport comes efficiency, high standards and quality service, where an increasing number of investors, tourists and the travelling public can be processed in a timely manner. This, he has said, is critical as Guyana, a new petroleum state, embarks on massive economic transformation, even at it endeavours to cement its role as the gateway to the Caribbean and South America.
During a visit to the CJIA in January 2018, to take a first-hand look at the project, President Granger said the Government recognises that investment in public infrastructure was vital to putting Guyana on par with other nations in the Caribbean, South America and further afield.
“This is the entry point for the modern state. It is very important to our development. Infrastructure would attract tourists and now that we are embarking on a new industry, people would want to come in their numbers and they should be coming to Guyana at a modern airport. In time to come, we should be able to put a time on visitors, meaning that no visitor should [have] to spend more than ten minutes in the airport,” the Head of State said.
In addition to the improvements being made to the CJIA to mirror modern, international ports of entry; to enhance its capacity to facilitate larger carriers and to improve overall passenger experience; upgrades are also being made to the Eugene F. Correia International Airport at Ogle, as well as a number of internal airstrips.
In this edition of Government in Action, we explore how the upgrades at the CJIA have impacted traveller experience and the overall operations at the airport.
Expatriate, Mr. Tim Swain, a Drilling Supervisor on the Stena Carron drill ship, said he has been travelling frequently between Guyana and Brazil over the last four years and he has seen significant improvements at the CJIA.
“Three to four years ago, it was very basic and… what we have now is up to normal standards for an airport. With the introduction of the check-ins, the access wings to the plane, back three years ago you had to make the run in the rain. The facilities have improved over the last three years, obviously the immigration is a lot more efficient, [especially] the baggage handling. I only got off the plane ten minutes ago and I’m already through. Before, sometimes you were looking at one and a half to two hours. So, everything is advanced from the training of the people to the facilities itself,” Mr. Swain said.
Overseas-based Guyanese, Ms. Corinne Sinclair, said for her it’s great to come back to Guyana and walk into an airport of international standard. She added that her last visit to the country was in 2017 and her experience at the airport has changed a lot since then.
“I’m surprised they did so much in the few years, it looks like magic… The airport was an older airport, an older model airport. You got off; you walked in; you came through. This one has been built up to something that you can walk into a sheltered area and come through, collect your bags, get through customs and so, that’s nice. It’s an upgrade and I hear great things are happening,” Ms. Sinclair said.
Project Manager of the CJIA Expansion Project, Ms. Carissa Gooding said the project is 93 per cent complete.
“We have really grown from where we were to where we are. The project in itself is very timely and from talking to [passengers], they are happy that the first thing that greets them is no longer sun or rain, but an air-conditioned boarding bridge that leads you to a very comfortable facility… It [has] modernised and I think it’s fit for purpose, in that it caters for where we are going as a nation,” Ms. Gooding said.
The departure terminal was increased from 20 to 32 check-in counters and is also expected to feature several self-service check-in kiosks that will allow passengers with electronic tickets the option to choose their seat, check-in and print their boarding passes several hours before departure without waiting to use a standard check-in desk.
Deputy Chief Executive Officer (DCEO) CJIA, Mr. Andre Kellman said the airport has seen a rapid increase in travellers since the expansion began. Passenger arrivals at the CJIA grew from 250,000 in 2015 to over 346,000 by the end of 2019. This represents an over 20 per cent increase in travelling. In 2019 alone arrivals grew by seven per cent.
“We have seen our passenger numbers increasing every year and with the expansion project in place, we have now gone to a runway of 11,200 feet… That by itself is an encouragement for other carriers around the world to be interested in what we have here. Coupled with that, we have the oil and gas sector booming and, with this size of runway, it… gives rise to any accommodation that they might want, including equipment and personnel… So what we do as a team is that we plan for this growth, and we prepare our staff to respond to these eventualities,” Mr. Kellman said.
Passenger comfort is also a priority. The CJIA’s new design is wheelchair accessible and caters for persons who may have mobility challenges. This includes the primary service areas such as the departure lounges and the washroom facilities. The airport will soon be increasing its compliment of duty-free shops and Guyana shops.
The DCEO said as we get closer to Guyana’s 50th Republic Anniversary, the airport will begin to offer arriving passengers an opportunity to experience a variety of Guyanese foods and culture with displays of masquerade and other festive performances.
“We’re the first window to Guyana and so we try to make the passenger experience a welcoming one. If you look around the airport now, the tidiness, the pictures, the sculptures… We just awarded a contract with Impressions [a local printing and advertising firm] so all the ads are going to go through Impressions and they are going to be putting up all the nice designs, the electronic displays and that kind of thing. So that by itself will add a better welcome experience to the passenger, making them feel more relaxed; and with the expanded immigration booths and the customs, it’s a combination of faster processing. So, you’re in and out in no time. That should be more than welcoming for the passenger arriving,” Mr. Kellman said.
Achieving international standards
The Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) is the lead agency tasked with ensuring that Guyana’s air transportation sector conforms to the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s (ICAO) Standards and Recommended Practices. These standards serve as a measure of ensuring proper occupational, safety and health practices and efficiency of the air transportation service. Guyana has made significant progress in becoming compliant with these standards.
Director General of GCAA, Lieutenant Colonel (retired) Egbert Field, A.A., said in 2007, Guyana was only 42.4 per cent compliant with the ICAO requirements. The most recent evaluation, done in late January 2020, revealed that it is now 76.9 per cent compliant, compared with the 65 per cent world average.
“What this does [is] it increases our safety level. What is the opposite of safety? The opposite of safety is chaos. The opposite of safety are accidents and we want to move away from that… It enhances the safety level to the point where airlines want to come to Guyana because they are coming into safe zones. So, [in] remaining compliant and increasing our compliance, there are a lot of benefits as we move along,” Mr. Field said.
He also said Guyana has already signed several air service agreements to allow for more direct flights. Additionally, several airlines have expressed an interest in starting their operations here. These include Eastern Airlines, which will start operations next month and Jet Blue, which is scheduled to begin operations in April.
“Signing an air service agreement is like the platform or the foundation of any airline wanting to fly to Guyana. Already, we have in place 42 agreements signed with other States. We have agreements with a number of African States: Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania and I could go on. We have agreements signed with European States and also, as you saw, not too long ago, we signed with the country of Qatar. We are setting the ground work for aviation,” the Director General said.
The airport’s new design caters for the processing of over 500 persons per hour for every arrival and departure. The four new boarding bridges can allow the airport to facilitate up to four airplanes at once for arrival and departure. To this end, Mr. Field emphasised that Guyana is boosting its capacity to process larger aircraft carriers and increased incoming and outgoing passengers at the same time.
“Before, an aircraft wanting to fly from Guyana, let’s say to Europe, because of the take-off weight being marginal, [the aircraft] would have to take-off from Guyana and they would have had to land at either Port of Spain [in Trinidad and Tobago] or Grantley Adams, [Barbados] to refuel before crossing the Atlantic. Now, with the length of runway we have, that weight does not become critical. They can fuel up, take off, and head to Europe or the Middle East. That is how critical it is when we talk about the extension… The largest aircraft can take off from that runway,” Mr. Field said.
Additionally, before the end of 2020, a new and modern Instrument Landing System (ILS) will be installed at the CJIA which will allow an aircraft to fly up to 200 feet above ground before landing. The use of the ILS is expected to reduce instances of aborted landing, especially during bad weather.
The evolution of the CJIA
The CJIA has been a commercial airspace since 1945. It was known as the Atkinson Aerodrome then, until it was renamed the Timehri International Airport in 1969 and later the Cheddi Jagan International Airport in 1997, following the death of President Cheddi Jagan. At that time, the airport had a runway of approximately 7,000 feet and the Guyana Airways was one of the airlines operating at that time.
Over the last four years, the CJIA’s departure terminal has been renovated and now boasts 12 additional check-in points; a new arrival terminal has been constructed to include three new duty-free shops; four boarding bridges have been installed; the runway has been expanded by 190 metres and a remote apron measuring 15,679 square meters has been built to accommodate parking for two larger aircrafts in accordance with the ICAO Aerodrome Reference codes ‘D’ and ‘E’ which are “a two part categorisation of aircraft types”. Two new blast pads have also been constructed, among other upgrades.
With the advent of oil production, Guyana is on the cusp of experiencing massive transformational economic growth and the Government is cognisant that in this new ‘Decade of Development’ improvements in infrastructure and access to modern facilities and services are essential to a good life.