— several regional carriers cited as errant parties
THE Ministry of Public Works and the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) on Monday convened a meeting with local travel agents to address issues of outstanding refunds to Guyanese travellers. The engagement, hosted at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre at Liliendaal, was led by subject minister Juan Edghill and the GCAA’s Director-General Lieutenant-Colonel (ret’d) Egbert Field.
During the discussion aspect of the forum, representatives of various travel services steered clear of assuming responsibility for the unsettled payments. On the contrary, the travel agents registered complaints relating to airlines failing to honour their responsibility of refunding passengers in a timely manner.
Blame was particularly attributed to regional airlines namely Fly Jamaica, LIAT and Caribbean Airlines (CAL). In 2019, Fly Jamaica exited the local market and filed for bankruptcy, following the 2018 crash-landing of one of its aircraft at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA). The accident resulted in six persons being injured. It was reported that the Toronto-bound airplane had suffered hydraulic complications.
As for CAL, travel agents are complaining of the drawn-out process of refunding customers who were affected by the closure of operations during the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. The meeting also heard complaints against Eastern Airlines, which has allegedly failed to compensate customers who were affected early last year. In some instances, airlines have issued vouchers, but failed to process cash payments in a timely manner. This was one of the complaints against LIAT.
Field told the forum that efforts have commenced to engage some of the errant airlines, particularly authorities in Jamaica. The GCAA head informed attendees too that local regulations do not require scheduled carriers to lodge bonds. Minister Edghill has expressed the commitment of the GCAA to address the issues.
Additionally, Edghill said that government would be instituting new regulations to more effectively guide the operations of local travel agencies, especially as the local aviation sector continues to expand.
The minister, in acknowledging the importance of the aviation sector to the economy, pointed to the need for more internationally recognised regulations, where the rights of consumers are protected.
“Our government is pro-business. We want to improve the environment for business development, the ease of doing business, we don’t want to put burdens on people, but we want to ensure people are in compliance,” he said.
Edghill noted too that the existing legal framework under which travel agencies operate is very vague. However, the Sale of Travel Tickets Act empowers him as the minister responsible for the sector, to implement regulations as he deems fit.
To this end, the Public Works Minister said that consultations are expected to commence shortly among representatives of the Ministry, GCAA and travel agents, regarding the specific regulations that are to be implemented.
“So, the conversation about the minister making regulations to ensure that we are properly regulated, I don’t want it to be a ‘top down’ where I sit in my office with some legal people and write regulations,” Edghill noted.
He said that consultations must be done to ascertain the areas that need be regulated, and the systems and procedures that require strengthening. “…and what needs to be changed,” Edghill added.
The minister noted that the consultations must, however, result in the creation of a draft regulation, along with a compliance document that will reflect the input of all relevant stakeholders in the industry.
“So, we are not going to encourage monopoly. We are not going to encourage elitism and we are going to keep the door [of] business open, but we also want everybody who is in practice, in compliance… So I am suggesting that the work of this team wrap up in no longer than six months,” the minister said.
He also urged the travel agencies to regularise themselves, so that they are eligible to participate in the upcoming consultations. He noted too that agencies that have not yet registered with the Ministry of Public Works have 30 days to do so.