The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) on Tuesday heard legal arguments seeking the reversal of the Eugene F Correia Airport name change on the grounds that the move is anti-competitive and moreover, that the former APNU/AFC Government did not adequately consult with those affected.
Lawyer for Air Services Limited Devendra Kissoon argued before the CCJ for the revocation of the name change. During the virtual hearing, Kissoon argued that the former Government failed to consider the economic impact the name change would have on other operators in the airport.
Kissoon also read documents suggesting that former President David Granger and former Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson had committed to addressing the concerns that were raised soon after the idea to rename the airport began floating around.
However, the lawyer contended that this was not done and that the former Government failed to meet the threshold for consultation with those who had the most to lose, thus violating common law principles attached to consultations. Rather, all the consultations occurred in the Ogle Airport Incorporated (OAI) board room, where most of them do not have a seat.
“There is a letter written by former President Granger to the representative of the applicant, on December 2nd, 2015, where he states that he is aware the Minister of Public Infrastructure has undertaken to ensure that the airport is administered efficiently and in the public interest. So the administration of the airport is in the public interest,” Kissoon explained.
“The majority of the applicants are small private operators whose livelihood depend on the fair management of Ogle airport. And make up nine out of the 10 domestic operators currently in Guyana. Save for three of them, none of them are Board members of OAI, but are simply arm’s length lessees of the space OAI provides to aircraft operators. And all compete for the market.”
The lawyer further contended that the Correia Group of Companies and the applicants in the case have historically had a strained relationship for the very reason of anti-competitive practices that include the name change.
Kissoon in his submissions made it clear that as per the lease, the airport is a public one, with Government as a major stakeholder. Hence, there was a duty to consult with all the operators and not just those on the OAI Board who overwhelmingly represent Correia Group. He, therefore, urged the court to issue orders paving the way to reverse the name change.
In his rebuttal, however, Solicitor General Nigel Hawke argued that there were consultations – just not the consultations Kissoon meant. Hawke noted that the correspondence between the operators and the then Public Infrastructure Minister satisfied the criteria for consultations.
“From what we understand from the evidence, all that the appellants wanted to say to the Minister was put before the Minister. And issues were raised at some time at some level regarding the (economic impact),” Hawke also said.
Following the oral submissions, CCJ Justice Jacob Wit informed the parties that they will get a notice when the court is ready to deliver its judgement.
The controversy surrounding the renaming of the OIA started when former President Granger, on September 17, 2015, at the commissioning of the Correia-owned Trans-Guyana Airways Beechcraft, urged that the Board of Directors of the airport consider renaming the facility the Eugene F Correia International Airport in recognition of Guyana’s first Minister of Communications, Shipping and Aviation.
However, nine of the ten operators at the airport had rejected the proposed name change, arguing that it would create unfair competition, since the name is similar to that of the Chairman of the Board, Michael Correia.
Additionally, they had argued that the Correias are controlling the Board of Directors and are the owners of a competing airline, Trans-Guyana Airways, which operates out of that airport.
The nine companies opposing the change were Air Services Limited (ASL); Domestic Airways; Hinterland Aviation; Hopkinson Mining Aviation; Jags Aviation; Oxford Aviation; Phoenix Airways; Roraima Airways, and Wings Aviation – all members of NATA.
The Ogle International Airport was renamed to the Eugene F Correia international airport on May 9, 2016, after the aviation pioneer. Prior to that, however, NATA unsuccessfully sought injunctions against the name change in the High Court and Court of Appeal.