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Aviation safety

Unread post by bimjim » Tue Jul 21, 2009

http://www.stabroeknews.com/2009/editor ... on-safety/

Aviation safety
By Stabroek staff | July 21, 2009 in Editorial

The fatal crash of a Yemenia Airways Airbus in the Indian Ocean last month has renewed calls for stricter scrutiny of the safety standards of developing nations and their airlines. Even before that disaster, the US Federal Aviation Administration had assessed the Government of Guyana’s Civil Aviation Authority “as not being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization aviation safety standards for the oversight of Guyana’s air carrier operations.”

The FAA has listed Guyana as one of the states that it says “aren’t meeting minimum standards.” Others are Bangladesh, Belize, Croatia, Gambia, Ghana, Haiti, Honduras, Kiribati, Nauru, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Philippines and Uruguay. Global air safety standards are set by the Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organization but it is left to the states, such as Guyana, to implement them.

There has been considerable turbulence in the aviation sector over the past year and the catalogue of complaints is cause for public alarm. Director General of the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority Zulficar Mohammed confirmed that, earlier this month, a Britten-Norman Islander aircraft with Caricom delegates from Kaieteur to the Ogle aerodrome made an emergency landing at Baganara because the aircraft had a problem with one engine. Earlier, another Britten-Norman Islander aircraft was involved in an incident at Fairview with six passengers on board.

On yet another occasion, Minister of Public Works and Communication Robeson Benn, who also has responsibility for aviation, told this newspaper that the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority launched an investigation into an incident involving a LIAT aircraft which was inbound to the International Airport and a Learjet which had minutes earlier departed the airport for Jamaica.

Benn, in December last year, had insisted that the local air traffic control system was safe. But the evidence contained in a report − prepared by Captain Gregory Fox at the invitation of the Director General of the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority − seemed to contradict him. Fox investigated the mid-air near collision of Delta Airlines flight departing Piarco, Trinidad for the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Timehri and a Caribbean Airlines flight departing Timehri for Piarco, in October 2008.

This newspaper published sections of the report which stated, among other things, that local air traffic controllers “are forced to work with unserviceable, obsolete and inadequate equipment.” Fox’s investigation also determined that the incident was due to air traffic controller error which resulted from “high work load, distractions from established procedures and partial loss of awareness.”

The Guyana Association of Air Traffic Controllers’ strike in February exposed the rotten relations between the air traffic control officers and the Aviation Authority. Apart from their demands for increased emoluments, the officers also sought the replacement of equipment, including obsolete navigational aids. The strike had implications for international flights because the International Airport was forced to be closed for a short period.

In other incidents, lightning triggered a lengthy blackout that led to the complete shut down of the International Airport in July last year and an approaching aircraft almost ran off the runway as a result. Again in August, the International Airport runway was without lights and a notice had to be issued advising that there were no runway lights, cancelling all flights arriving during the night. And squatting and vending structures in the environs of the International Airport − giving the appearance of a shantytown bazaar − provide a base for crooks and vandals who from time to time have stolen fuel, batteries or other essential airport equipment, thereby impairing safety.

This is no way to run a modern, aviation sector. In light of the evidence of these events and conditions, it is difficult to comprehend Benn’s airy assurances that the aviation sector is safe. The evidence suggests there is cause for concern.

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