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NATA fears govt supporting Correia dominance at Ogle Airport

Ogle International Airport.

Ogle International Airport.

Even as the National Air Transportation Association (NATA) awaits the outcome of an appeal against the renaming of the Ogle International Airport, the organisation hopes that government will establish long-awaited regulatory mechanisms to help create a level playing field.

NATA wants government to urgently set up the Airport Review Panel to ensure OAI’s compliance and give the nine other operators redress and the National Airport Authority to ensure fair and equitable management of Guyana’s airports.

In keeping with President David Granger’s publicly stated desire last year, the airport is set to be renamed the Eugene F. Correia International Airport- a move that has raised questions about the suitability of the name since history records Correia as a member of a British-established Interim Government after Britain had suspended British Guiana’s constitution at a time when local politicians had been fighting for the then colony’s independence. Correia was an aviation minister.

After it became clear that President Granger was still keen in having the airport renamed, NATA wrote Public Infrastructure Minister, David Patterson appealing for government to abandon its plan to do so or it would be viewed that the administration was endorsing market dominance by one group. “We therefore write you in a desperate attempt to collectively reiterate our continued and strong objection to the renaming of Ogle International Airport, and further elaborate that should this happen it would be viewed by the majority of the local aviation industry as state sanction and legalization of the Correia Group of Companies’ abuse of dominance and anti-competitive activity which sanction will inflict permanent and irreparable financial harm on NATA’s membership,” the association told Patterson in a letter dated April 13, 2016.

NATA, whose nine members are the majority of operators at Ogle, are also preparing to revive its allegation of anti-competitive behaviour against the Ogle Airport Inc (OAI) on the basis that the Correias dominate operations there through the provision of maintenance, fuel and airline services while at the same time enjoying a dominant position on OAI’s Board of Directors. “We are of the strong opinion that the renaming of the airport, which will now include the Correia name, apart from giving them unsurpassed brand recognition will embolden them even further. This will be to the detriment of our very economic survival,” Arjoon-Martins said.

Attorney-at-Law, Christopher Ram told a news conference that possible legal outcomes could include oppression of minority shareholders, redistribution of the shares, or even a winding up of the company under the Companies Act. Ram said “there is a high level of uncertainty as to whether the procedures have in fact been followed” for renaming the airport.

No date has been set for the commencement of the appeal. Ram signaled that the case could be taken to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) and cautioned against rushing to change the name next Monday, May 9, 2016. “It would seem that the rush to engage in this name change could result in embarrassment all around because it is quite possible that this decision could be reversed on appeal,” he said.

NATA President, Annette Arjoon-Martins said the renaming of the Ogle International Airport the Eugene F. Correia International Airport would result in even further unfair competitive advantage because the Correia-dominated airport would essentially be branded a Correia facility. Caribbean Aviation Maintenance Services (CAMS) and Trans Guyana Aviation (TGA) are two key Correia-associated companies. “Placing the Correia name on the airport would give them a distinct competitive advantage over the nine aircraft operators who represent 90% of the industry,” she said.

She could not say when NATA would be returning to the Consumer and Competition Commission, but highlighted that that entity does not have the money to deal with such a case.

Sources have independently told Demerara Waves Online News that the Competition Commission has found that there was sufficient evidence to make a case for anti-competitive behaviour at Ogle. The sources have also confirmed that the Commission does not have enough funds to hire high-priced experts to conduct forensic probes, leaving that regulatory body with no other option but to ask the litigants to help finance such work.