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Domestic aircraft owners slam Civil Aviation Authority over “unscrupulous” price-gouging claims

Director General of the GCAA Lt.Col.(ret’d) Egbert Field

Domestic aircraft owners, represented by two rival associations, on Tuesday railed against the adverse impact of COVID-19 measures, saying that their operational costs have gone up and a number of them have been f0rced to increase passenger fares.

The Aircraft Owners Association of Guyana (AOAG) and the National Air Transportation Association (NATA), in separate statements, slammed the Director-General of the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), Retired Lt. Col. Egbert Field for accusing them of price-gouging and being unscrupulous.

NATA said cargo fares and hourly rates have remained the same, but passenger fares have increased because there is insufficient cargo to constantly make up the payload and compensate for halving of the passenger capacity of aircraft.

“For passenger operations however, the mandate to operate at half of passenger loads has necessitated adjustment of passenger fares in order to maintain the Aircraft Hourly Rate. Operating Aircraft for Half the cost is not feasible, and the lower rates charged in Guyana severely constrain accumulation of large rainy-day funds for private subsidy of operations,” NATA said. The association said the rates are the lowest they can charge in order to maintain the required level of safety the public must enjoy. They are a creature of our costs including employees, facilities, critical spare parts, and insurance.

Air Services Limited (ASL), a NATA member, has been singled out for hiking its freight charges to Region 8 (Potaro-Siparuni) where it has been operating exclusively.

Saying they were “extremely perturbed and disappointed” at Field’s description of Guyanese aviation industry operators, NATA added that its members have introduced measures more than those recommended by the National COVID-19 Task Force which have increased their operating expenses. That association said explanations have been provided to the GCAA.

The AOAG, whose members are Trans Guyana Airways, JAGS Aviation, Wings Aviation and Roraima Airways, said since the shutdown of almost all passenger operations in the interior have led to a more than 50% reduction of all flights and making the removal of VAT ineffective and “leaving our members struggling to stay in business.”

AOAG said its members, since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, have introduced stringent protocols to ensure the safety of their passengers, including 100% temperature testing of all passengers and staff, sanitizing of our aircraft before every flight, the compulsory wearing of face masks and hand sanitizing before passengers and crew board the aircraft. All cargo is similarly sanitized.

In spite of these strict precautionary protocols being applied, the AOAG said the COVID-19 Task Force has further enforced a 50% passenger restriction (it was initially set at 75%) on all domestic flights. In addition, the Task Force has stopped all passenger flights to border destinations, which, inexplicably, have included Matthews Ridge and Port Kaituma, even though these border locations were already closed off and a No Fly Order was in place for all foreign travelers.

“The Aircraft Owners Association of Guyana has discussed these matters with the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority and has advised that the measures being enforced by the COVID-19 Task Force are excessive, given the mitigation measures already in place against the risk of spreading the virus, and that these measures have been taken without sufficient regard for the negative economic impact on the hinterland communities,” the association said.

That organisation said it completely rejected the GCAA’s assertions, accusing all domestic aviation operators of increasing airfares and is shocked that the Authority should do so without first checking the facts.

The AOAG’s members are Trans Guyana Airways, JAGS Aviation, Wings Aviation and Roraima Airways, which is also a member of NATA, have not increased their prices in spite of the restrictions imposed on the industry by the COVID-19 Task Force through the GCAA.

The AOAG said it understands the concerns expressed by the NATA and the government with regard to Region 8 food and freight supplies and have decided, therefore, to immediately look at introducing flights to provide relief in this area.

The AOAG notes that while, in Guyana, domestic airlines are suffering from punitive COVID-19 restrictions and are being threatened with Government control. In other countries, Governments are moving to bail out airlines in financial trouble resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

While these restrictions are being placed on aviation traffic to border areas, the AOAG said “there is ample evidence that there is little or no enforcement in place on the ground as passenger vehicles and boats continue to operate freely at these locations.”