AS GUYANA continues to pursue the ‘green’ pathway to sustainable development through conservation, technological advancements and progressive initiatives at the policy level, Government has recognised that investment in public infrastructure programmes, aimed at putting the country on par with other nations in the Caribbean and South America, will spur transformative development for the country.
One such infrastructural development project is the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) Expansion Project, a US$150 million initiative, which President David Granger has described as the gateway to a modern Guyana.
In this week’s edition of Government in Action, we will take a look at how this project has evolved from one shrouded in secrecy and controversy to one where there is maximum transparency.
A project that will enable Guyanese and visitors alike to enjoy the facilities of an international airport designed to accommodate the rising number of visitor arrivals.
GATEWAY TO A MODERN GUYANA
In 2011, news broke through the Jamaica Observer newspaper that the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) administration had signed a secret deal with China Harbour Engineering Company for the expansion of the CJIA.
In 2014, the PPP administration took the Project to the National Assembly. Despite questions raised by the then Opposition about how the proposed US$150 million for the project would be spent, no answers were forthcoming.
The Opposition, then the Alliance for Change (AFC) and A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), jointly took a decision to vote against the project, during the 2014 Budget. Despite this, the PPP went ahead with the project. In 2015, the newly-elected coalition Government mandated Minister of Public Infrastructure, Mr. David Patterson to review the expansion project under a different model than the one presented by the previous government.
The new model caters for the expansion and extension of the runway to satisfy international requirements for large aircraft landing and operating out of the CJIA and a modified airport terminal. These modifications allow for the project to be completed with the funds that were available. Two years later, the project is on schedule for a December 2018 completion.
During a tour of the Airport in January by President Granger and the Ministers of Government, the Head of State said that with the emerging oil and gas sector and advancement of the ‘Green’ State Development Strategy (GSDS), it is important for there to be greater efficiency in the service provided at Guyana’s main entry point, since he expects that there will be an influx of tourists and investors.
“This is the entry point for the modern state. It is very important to our development. Infrastructure would attract tourists, and now that we are embarking on a new industry people would want to come in their numbers, and they should be coming to Guyana at a modern airport. In time to come, we should be able to put a time on visitors, meaning that no visitor should be able to spend more than 10 minutes in the airport. We need an efficient service so that as soon as someone lands, they can be on their way, of course, after satisfying all security requirements. We need to plan for the future,” he said.
The Head of State charged the management and staff of the CJIA to commit to ensuring that the operations of the newly-modernised airport are defined by efficiency, high standards and quality service.
“It will be very functional and it is very important to the future development of our country. It is the gateway to the ‘green’ state and I hope these can be reflected in the murals so that it can showcase the character of the country. It is also a gateway not just to the Caribbean but South America as well, so it is an important cultural statement as well.
From a functional point of view, a major problem in Guyana is the absence of adequate infrastructure and many people do not come to Guyana because it is very bothersome because there are a few direct flights and so this is very functional,” the President said.
Chief Executive Officer of the CJIA, Mr. Ramesh Ghir echoed the sentiments shared by the Head of State, noting that the airport, when unveiled, will become the gateway to the ‘green’ economy and the main contributor to Guyana’s development.
“This is our main international airport and we process about 600,000 passengers a year. Lots of visitors, persons from the Diaspora returning to Guyana and business travel use this port of entry. In addition, the airport itself contributes significantly; aviation contributes just about three per cent of the GDP [gross domestic product] for Guyana.
In our estimate, with the expansion work, for example, we’re probably going to have another 200 persons employed within the airport environment. So apart from its contribution to the economy, with the expansion of the airport, it will also allow us to attract, what we call, large Trans-Atlantic flights. The next most important thing I think is that we’re going to benefit from the oil and gas [sector] and we’re going to have so many suppliers and business traffic coming. I think the expansion of the airport is opportune,” he said.
NEW POSSIBILITIES FOR GUYANA
At the close of the project this year-end, the runway will be extended from 7,500 to 10,800 feet, which will accommodate almost every large aircraft, while the terminal building, which received facelifts in the 1960s and 1990s, will be transformed into a state-of-the-art facility.
The benefit of an extended runway and new terminal building is two-fold. With an extended runway, the country’s aviation operators will be able to entice and attract larger transatlantic aircraft, which means that the passenger flow will be significantly increased.
The key components of the airport expansion project are two passenger boarding bridges, a CCTV system with approximately 300 cameras, a 13,737-square-metre terminal building area, 32 check-in counters and a 450seat departure area, as well as elevators and escalators. The airport will also be outfitted with kiosks to facilitate self-check ins, in an effort to save time.
With a modern airport, however, come the challenges of security, health and adequate customer staffing. Mr. Ghir said that management has taken these into consideration and has already begun putting systems in place. With regard to staffing, he said at present there are 270 employees, with 60 more being recruited in anticipation of the needs of the airport. In addition, customer service training sessions are conducted at frequent intervals.
“There are several sets of training. What we aim for is to expose the frontline staff to customer service training at least once per year, but we have several other types of training that take place. With the new airport, for example, come some facilities that we’ve never had like the boarding bridges so we have to get additional staff trained in that area.
In-house, we have our own cleaning department so we call them the airport’s custodians. Two weeks ago we had about 26 of those persons trained and within the next two weeks, mid-February, we’re working with the Guyana Tourism Authority (GTA) to have all of our red caps and airport taxi drivers also trained not only in customer service but to learn more about Guyana, so that when they’re taking passengers down or receiving passengers from the airport, they can better represent our country,” Mr. Ghir said.
In January, the airport facilitated a visit from representatives from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) of the United States, who were in Guyana to conduct a security audit at the airport. Guyana performed well in that audit but the CJIA management under the guidance of the Ministry of Public Infrastructure is looking to improve efficiency and security through training.
“I am very pleased to say that coming out of their audit there are no, what we call, “open items.” Open item means that they haven’t found anything of significance that warrants for them to say that we have to implement or correct anything going forward. In terms of security staffing, our staff is approximately 110 at the moment. We will continue to recruit more staff and we envisage by the end of this year there will be another 20 or 30 more employees in that division. The training in security is varied. We have our own training department, about 10, what we call, trainers.
In addition to that we have, for last year alone, we have had several areas of detection, explosives, and security awareness training and this is an on-going exercise. Equipment-wise, we’ve started the process to upgrade our security equipment. At the moment, for example, we’re the only airport in the region that has a full body , but in addition to that we’re going to upgrade most of the scanning machines that we have,” he said.
There is a port health authority located on site to deal with medical emergencies as well as the Guyana Defence Force’s Medical Corps nearby. With regard to emergencies, fires and accidents, the airport is outfitted with two reservoirs at the end of both sides of the runway and a sprinkler system in the terminal building. Safety drills are conducted on a frequent basis, with more than 300 stakeholders involved.
The Project was due for completion in December 2017, however, the technical team had several obstacles to overcome. Some of the challenges included the weather, the removal of several other buildings in the path of the runway works and finding a workable solution to deal with the rehabilitation of the terminal building while continuing the operations of the airport.
Project Manager, Mr. Carmichael Thorne, said that most of the challenges were beyond the control of the team but he noted that systems have been put in place to ensure that the project stays within its budget and remains on schedule for its December 2018 deadline.
“We have elaborated on the schedule of the remaining time in very detailed steps and we are looking at each step individually and identifying the potential problem areas and addressing them beforehand. So, these are very dynamic sessions that occur twice weekly where we will go through all the plans for the remainder of the year and try to look ahead and see what the problems are and resolve them beforehand. I think we are in a good place of achieving the new schedule. So far we are on target to the December 2018 deadline,” Mr. Thorne said.
With regard to some concerns raised about quality control, Mr. Thorne explained that there is a thorough process in place to check every material and aspect of the work to ensure that Guyanese get their monies’ worth.
“The quality control programme is very robust. First off before any piece of equipment or material is even shipped into the country the specifications of these materials and equipment has to be agreed, it has to be presented beforehand and approved prior to even being imported.
Once it gets here it is examined and the contractor first off has his laboratory where he does some of the examinations, the consultant has his laboratory that will do some independent checks and the ministry as well, we have our lab that can do further checks so it’s a lot of layers in the quality programme to ensure that all the requirements are met,” the Project Manager noted.
The new arrivals terminal building, generator building, pipe installation, pump station and water tank, boarding corridor and passenger boarding bridges will be completed by the first quarter of the year. Work on the Check-in and Departure lounges and the first phase of the Departure terminal, Screening and VIP areas and the South West runway will be completed by the end of June. All other works will be completed by December 2018.
Minister of Public Infrastructure, Mr. David Patterson, during the tour in January noted that the project is now entering its ‘third fix stage’, where the first set of finishing touches will be installed. As such, he noted that a decision was taken to allow the members of Cabinet to provide input.
“We thought it would be good to bring all the members of the Cabinet here today so that if there are any inputs, they can do so today. We are at the third fix stage and this is where we are now going into finishes and for a project this big, we want persons to give their input now before we go ahead. The Ministries of Business, Public Health and Public Telecommunications are already catered for but they can review and give their comments,” he said.
At the end of the project, a roundabout will also be constructed outside the airport to reduce traffic congestion and to allow for a faster exit from the airport zone, he said.
As Guyana prepares for the oil and gas industry while pursuing a ‘green’ economy, there is no doubt that the country will become one of the most sought-after investment destinations in the Caribbean and South America.
The modern Cheddi Jagan International Airport will therefore become the gateway to the new Guyana, where rapid development and a good life for all Guyanese is assured. Already, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Airport is optimistic that the airport will be able to offer a memorable experience to all visitors.