Moves to pave the way for a possible levy on property if domestic airlines do not pay their debts to the Ogle Airport Inc. have triggered a controversy and the formation of the National Air Transport Association (NATA) by nine out of 10 domestic carriers operating at that airport.
OAI’s Chief Executive Officer, Michael Correia and NATA Vice President, Captain Gerry Gouveia are at odds over whether there had been consultations on the agreement before it came up approval.
Gouveia said operators were extremely concerned that the OAI Board was about to approve an “Airport Operators Agreement” that would have seen that company having a “continual” right to keep in possession property belonging to all operators until all debts are paid.
“What I believe caused a trigger was a document that was presented to the Board of Directors of the airport and it went to the board for approval and this document was demanding that the operators at Ogle sign this document that hands over a lien on our planes, vehicles, boats and planes and whatever it is that we own at Ogle to the airport so that if we owe them landing fees they could seize our planes and our buildings,” he told a news conference to announce NATA’s formation.
But OAI’s CEO said Air Services Limited (ASL), which sits on the seven-member board, was well aware that the Aircraft Operator Agreement was under consideration for more than one year. That process, he said, included input from a foreign consultant and a senior OAI official. Correia added that ASL and Wings Aviation had agreed that their lawyers would have reviewed the draft agreement. “There was even some discussion at the level of the board about whether we should go ahead with the agreement but rather than throwing the whole document out, they agreed that they would review it and send back whatever changes so the perception that is given that is a final document imposed upon operators is not correct,” he said.
Correia explained that even if the OAI board agrees to a document, it still has to be approved by the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) and subjected to wider consultations. “It is a misrepresentation of the facts,” he said.
According to a copy of the agreement seen by Demerara Waves Online News, OAI can levy fees incurred by any aircraft or property for storage or otherwise during the lien and the company might further exercise a lien for unpaid fees, charges, costs or other liabilities as it sees fit.
The agreement, if approved, empowers OAZS to seize properties after 14 days notice have been given for unpaid fees, charges or other liabilities. “In the event that payment remains outstanding, thereafter, OAI may at its entire discretion, sell, dispose of, remove or destroy such aircraft or equipment,” states the agreement. After OAI recoups the monies owed, the agreement provides for the remainder to be handed over the operator.
The 16-page agreement states that OAI has a right to possess any aircraft, its parts or accessories and any equipment for all fees, charges, costs and any other liabilities due or payable by the operator to the company whether or not it is connected to a particular aircraft even if it is not at the airport. “A lien shall not be lost by reason of the aircraft departing from the Airport but shall continue to be exercisable at any time when the aircraft or any other aircraft or other equipment owned by the operator has returned to the airport having left it for as long as any of the said fees, charges, costs or other liabilities, whether incurred before or after such departure, remain unpaid.”
Asked why the agreement contains such serious measures, the OAI CEO said it was patterned off of similar agreements for international airports. “It doesn’t mean that the airport would have gone ahead and put those measures in so I think it’s a red herring,” he said.
Trans Guyana Airways (TGA), which is effectively owned by the Correias, is not a NATA member. Its members are ASL, Roraima Airways, Hinterland Aviation, Oxford Aviation, Fenix Airways, Domestic Airways, Jags Aviation, Wings Aviation, and Hopkinson Mining Aviation.
NATA intends to meet with policymakers to discuss their concerns about OAI including the apparent absence of oversight by an independent review panel.
Gouveia said NATA members were unanimously opposed to a the renaming of Ogle International Airport the Eugene F. Correia Airport in keeping with a suggestion by President David Granger that it should be done in recognition of that pioneer aviator.
The NATA Vice President declined to immediately provide details about why they do not want Granger’s suggestion to be accepted. The renaming was down on the agenda of the last OAI Board meeting.
Gouveia said since several domestic aircraft operators went public with their grievances, OAI management has since taken steps to address a number of them.
Six of the nine operators have already complained that OAI refuses to allow cargo transport operations using the main terminal although foreign operators including LIAT are allowed to do so). “The Airport Management actually strongly suggested that we use Cheddi Jagan Int’l Airport for our cargo operations, thereby adding cost to our operations.”
OAI has been also accused of imposing staff on the operators with authoritative and confrontational attitudes, often threatening, shouting, and demanding, sub-leasing land for facility development at prohibitive rates, and charging astronomically high fees for airport usage.
The six operators said Correia Group controls the airport as a creature of its business and has increased the cost of fuel, delayed the delivery of fuel to their aircraft, monopolised ground handling and other services and arbitrarily terminated tenancy contracts with the aim of forcing us out.