Guyana poised to get proper search and rescue system

Last Updated on Friday, 15 September 2017, 16:45 by Denis Chabrol

The headquarters of the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), High Street, Kingston, Georgetown.

Guyana appears poised to finally establish a search and rescue system, even as steps are being taken to boost air navigational systems and strengthen enforcement of safety regulations. Director General of the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) , Retired Lt.Col. Egbert Field said.

Three GCAA air navigation officers, who have already received search and rescue training in the United States (US), Peru and Mexico during the past 10 months, on Thursday held discussions on Thursday with representatives of the National Air Transportation Association (NATA). President of NATA, Annette Arjoon-Martins said they agreed to conduct a Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis and submit a report, including needs, to the regulatory agency. She said acquiring even a used helicopter “with the capacity to extract injured pilots or passengers”. She added that having a proper search and rescue system was needed to help boost confidence in Guyana’s tourism industry. A used chopper, she said, could cost around US$3.5 to US$4 million compared to a brand new one at US$14 million.

He said the meeting was aimed at determining the needs to ensure there is an active search and rescue system. Field bemoaned the absence of a  Bell 412 helicopter that could deploy personnel directly to crash sites. “An important element of search and rescue, which is a helicopter, in the event of a crash- I don’t know why the GDF (Guyana Defence Force) equipment was allowed to deteriorate to the point where they don’t have a serviceable helicopter for proper search and rescue which is the Bell 412 helicopter,” he said.

Field said he was “taking a serious look” at improving the  search and rescue system and he was confident that he would receive support from the GCAA’s Board and government.

Whenever there is a plane crash in Guyana’s jungle, private domestic airlines have to deploy their planes to search for the crash site after which rescue and recovery teams have to trek rugged mountainous and thickly forested terrain to the location. Experts have repeatedly said a Bell 412 helicopter is needed to rappel rescue personnel to the crash site shortly after an incident to increase the chances of saving persons’ lives.

In relation to navigational aids, Field said the Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B) system, which allows for satellite tracking of aircraft, was currently being expanded to include planes at altitudes below 24,000 feet. He said the four ADS-B  stations at Kaieteur, Annai, Kamarang and Port Kaituma were recently activated and testing would be conducted by month-end by experts from the Canada-headquartered IntelCan to ensure proper data transmission.

The GCAA boss said aircraft would have to be fitted with transponders so that they could be tracked “right down to landing”.

Since the three air crashes in July and August, 2017, he said the GCAA has been ensuring that its inspectors are present at the Eugene F. Correia ‘Ogle’ International Airport and would soon be expanding its presence to the main shuttle jump-off points such as Mahdia, Eteringbang and Lethem. At the same time, he said he was grappling with the shortage of well-trained and experienced  operational inspectors the need to pay competitive salaries. “An inspector- even when we get him with experience etc; it takes him as much as two years for him to be fully delegated to go out there, run an inspection, write a letter, write your findings and sign it because what he signs is law, is part of regulations and unless he is properly trained, anything he puts out there can be challenged in a court of law,” said the chief aviation regulator.

Field said he has heard accounts of rackets allegedly between loaders, fuel pump attendants and even police stationed at interior locations  who facilitate the loading and movement of excess fuel from one location to another.

Meanwhile, only Trans Guyana Airways’ (TGA) shuttle manual has been approved while the others that have been submitted under the banner of the NATA have been rejected and the domestic carriers have been told to submit them individually. “The shuttle operations will not be allowed to run like the wild west like it was being run previously,” he said. It is now six weeks since the regulator has asked the local carriers for shuttle manuals.

With Roraima Airways’ Chief Pilot, Collin Martin, having allegedly conducted 19 shuttles prior to his death in a plane crash in July, 2017; the GCAA Director General said his agency is recommended a 45-minute to one-hour break after three or four hours of shuttling.