Government’s decision to scrap the initial plan to expand the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) could prevent Guyana from becoming a major hub in the Region, akin to the likes of Panama.
These is the view expressed by Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo, who said that under his Party’s tenure in Government a plan was catered to make CJIA a modern airport to accommodate aircraft from various countries, which would have eventually created trade opportunities.
“It’s an enhanced cake shop now…they have cut out all the modern features. The length of the runway was critical to bringing in some types of aircraft here” he stated.
Jagdeo recalled that under the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Administration, discussions were held with KLM Royal Dutch Airline and Suriname Airways to look at the possibility of having flights to Europe.
According to him, the idea was to create an avenue where flights could have departed Guyana to Suriname and then onto Europe and vice versa.
At present, Guyanese travelling to Europe have to travel to either Panama, Miami or New York, before they can go directly into any European country.
“We could have direct flights into Europe but they will not come because those aircraft can’t land. That was the objective of lengthening the runway. You can’t go and market for a hub until you have facilities. That is what we were doing, but they have done their own thing,” he opined.
The Opposition Leader said that traffic would have been increased had these initial plans had been carried out. First, Jagdeo said that perishable exports could have seen an increased.
“Once you have more airlines flying you will see the cost of freight going down,” he said, which would have lent to that uptick.
He also lamented that Guyana could have had more regular flights to Suriname, Northern Brazil, Barbados, Trinidad and onto Europe and North America.
The PPP Administration, he said, was also in talks with South African airlines, discussing the possibility of them operating here, but the runway was an impediment.
“They not marketing anything…If we look at the cost of borrowing, we would have borrowed over $170 million more in debt payment and if you add a small fee to every passenger and security you would have serviced the loan… It was a feasible project… but they need to do much more,” he added.
The US$150 million expansion project was scheduled to be completed within 32 months of its commencement in 2013. However the deadline was extended to December 1, 2017, since the project would have experienced several delays.
In 2012, Guyana, under the leadership of former President Donald Ramotar, had secured a US$138 million loan from the China Exim (Export-Import) Bank to fund the expansion and modernisation project, for which the Guyana Government has injected some US$12 million.
However, when the coalition Government came into power in 2015, the project was put on hold, but following discussions between Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson and the contracting company China Harbour Engineering Corporation (CHEC), it was announced that the project would be continued but redesigned. Among the redesigning elements was the reduction of the air bridges from eight to a mere two.
Government is now seeking to add two more air bridges at a cost of $346.5M.
At a project update briefing, it was noted that of the US$150 million, only US$37.3 million had been expended to date.
Of this amount, some US$33 million was spent by CHEC, which included US$1.9 million of local funds put up by the Government of Guyana.
To date, the project is still to be completed.