Phased reopening of airports being considered – GCAA Head
– Private Sector welcomes move, laments impact on local sectors
The National COVID-19 Task Force (NCTF) is considering a phased reopening of Guyana’s airports which have, since March 18, been closed to incoming commercial flights as part of efforts to curb the importation and local spread of the novel coronavirus.
This was revealed by Director General of the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), Lt. Col.(retd) Egbert Field, who told the Department of Public Information (DPI) that a draft four-stage blueprint for the reopening of the two international airports – the Cheddi Jagan International (CJIA) and the Eugene F. Correia – has been submitted to the National Task Force for review.
Field explained that Phase 1, the planning stage, will see the continued closure of the airports to international travel, with only repatriation, cargo, and other special flights approved by the GCAA being allowed.
This initial phase also entails establishing standard operating procedures (SOPs) on health, safety, and
security; which would be drafted through multi-stakeholder meetings and are expected to cover areas such as sanitisation, social distancing, and use of masks among other things.
However, Phase 2, the implementation stage, would see the resumption of regional travel along with regular reviews of the SOPs and further consultations with stakeholders.
The third phase entails expanding the reopening of the airports to foreign nationals, and
this phase would run from August to December.
The final Phase would see an extension of the airports’ reopening into 2021, with a possible resumption to normalcy in the aviation sector.
According to the GCAA head, full reopening of the airports would be dependent on the evolving pandemic in regions of the world where flights to Guyana may originate. Nevertheless, this phased reopening of the airports has been welcomed by the Private Sector.
During a virtual briefing on Thursday, stakeholders lamented the impact of COVID-19 and the resultant closure the country’s borders have had on local industries, especially those in the tourism sector.
Chairman of the Private Sector Commission (PSC), Captain Gerry Gouveia, stated that the entire tourism industry has been “completely flattened”. He added that because of the airports’ closures, coupled with the social distancing guidelines imposed by authorities, all the restaurants, hotels and resorts have been closed.
“So, right across the [tourism] sector, it went from 100 miles per hour to zero almost immediately; and so there is a wider spread of job loss in the tourism industry in Guyana. All our tourist attractions – Kaieteur Falls, Orinduik Falls, Iwokrama – have all come to a grinding halt. Certainly, I believe it will take some time to be restarted. The first thing we have to do is flatten the curve, and then we have to ensure that people follow all the protocols,” he said.
Chief among these protocols, Gouveia noted, are those that would be implemented as the country reopens its airspace to incoming commercial flights. In fact, with plans afoot for the phased reopening of the airports, the PSC Chairman, who is also the local representative for a number of international airlines, disclosed that American Airlines and Eastern Airlines, which started operations in Guyana only back in March, are both ready to recommence flights.
“I think we are all awaiting this time to finish the protocols. Every Friday, we’re having a meeting and discussing the protocols of opening up the airspace and the airport, and all the things that need to be done; things like having people tested before they get on the plane,” Gouveia explained.
Hotelier Robert Badal, who own the Pegasus Hotel, also spoke of the impact the lack of tourists has had on his business. He said there has been no business in the past few months, and the hotel has had to foot a salary bill for some 200 staff.
“We definitely need that the flights be reopened as early as possible, so that we can turn the engine of tourism again… At Pegasus here, we have just over 200 people, and despite the fact that we haven’t been getting business, we continue to pay staff. But imagine paying 200 staff in March, April and now May. There is a limit to which we can continue going forward like this into June and July,” he stressed.
The domestic aviation sector has also been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with guidelines implemented to curb its spread.
Spokesperson of the Eugene F. Correia International Airport, Kit Nascimento, disclosed during the briefing on Thursday that the airport has lost some 80 per cent of its revenues from both international and domestic flights.
“It’s barely keeping its head above the water. You have to maintain the staff in order for the domestic airlines to function,” he contended.
According to Nascimento, the domestic airlines, for instance Trans Guyana Airways which has recommenced flying its beechcraft into the Rupununi in Region Nine (Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo), are now operating at a loss, since they can carry only 50 per cent of the aircraft’s capacity.
“You’re virtually flying at a huge loss of money, even if you increase your airfares. So, it’s highly probable that we will not be able to maintain our flights to the Rupununi. A lot of passengers on those flights were Brazilians, and we cannot fly foreign passengers at all; and it will probably be undesirable to fly Brazilians anyway, given the implications of COVID in Brazil,” he stated.
Nevertheless, the airport spokesperson noted that the domestic airlines are taking extensive precautions, including sanitising of the aircraft and checking the temperatures of passengers before and after each flight.