Civil Aviation Bill sent to Special Select Committee; Opposition needs contradictory aspects clarified
By Stacy Carmichael-James
The passage of the Civil Aviation Bill 2017, Bill No.1 of 2017 in the National Assembly will allow the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority, to make provisions to enable effect to be given to the Chicago Convention and the Agreement establishing the Caribbean Aviation Safety and Security Oversight System.
The Convention on International Civil Aviation, also known as the Chicago Convention, “established the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a specialized agency of the UN charged with coordinating and regulating international air travel. The Convention establishes rules of airspace, aircraft registration and safety, and details the rights of the signatories in relation to air travel.”
The Civil Aviation Bill was sent to a Parliamentary Special Select Committee for further examination during the recent sitting of the House.
Public Infrastructure Minister, David Patterson in his presentation to the National Assembly said in the new bill the role of the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) is more expanded owing to the fact that Civil Aviation has become much more complex. “An autonomous fully empowered GCAA is the cornerstone of the Guyana Civil Aviation system,” Patterson stressed.
The Board of the GCAA would now be required to present a three-year corporate plan to Minister Patterson and sets a timeline of 60 days for the Minister to respond and importantly it allows the Director-General to play a greater oversight role as it relates to safety and to delegate persons to ensure same.
Pointing to the fact that Civil Aviation is a lucrative business, Minister Patterson said the GCAA is enabled to garner additional funds through charges and other service fees, which would be managed by the entity.
The Bill will also allow the regulation of aerodromes located in Hinterland communities.
Opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira noted that there are some contradictory aspects of the Bill that need to be addressed “the board has certain functions and then the Director General has and really the Director General as far as ICAO is involved… when you take your Civil Aviation body which has four large directorates and one of the largest directorates which is the Air Navigation Services, you are deciding that that body reports directly to the Board and not the Director General, and that is probably one of the most technical areas, you are now putting into the hands of the board which are essentially policy makers,” she explained to the Assembly.
She disagreed sternly with moving navigation services, which is a highly technical area and putting it directly under a policy-oriented board, alluding to the fact that the board under the 2000 Civil Aviation Act and the Board under the new act do not clearly define who the members would be and their expertise.
“They’re going to make technical decisions when they don’t have the technical competency,” she noted. Teixeira pointed to an Inter-American Development (IDB) study which suggests that technical setting and policy regulations may be compromised if they are placed under one body such as the GCAA and further recommends that technical and policy functions be assigned to independent agencies to avoid any interference.
The Opposition Chief Whip acknowledged that attaining Category One would be a great accomplishment but would entail crossing many hurdles especially with a country like Guyana which has limited resources.
Having looked at the penalties, Opposition MP Clement Rohee called for greater consideration, “there are some issues like failing to fasten your safety belt on an aircraft that would attract a fine of a million dollars …I believe these are issues that we can discuss at the Committee when it is established,” he noted.
The training school, he said ought to be established, since there would be sufficient financing for this purpose, noting that there may be many persons who would want to work with the GCAA, but may be hampered since there is a cost recovery aspect which stipulates that persons who have received training would have to enter into a repayment agreement. Rohee said there is some level of unfairness with this arrangement “I think the Civil Aviation Authority should look at the possibility of offering some scholarship to youngsters who may wish to be a part of the Civil Aviation Authority but would not be able to be engaged in cost recovery for the training.”
Meantime Minister Patterson in his closing remarks said Guyana’s Aviation sector has some unique challenges that have to be overcome when the Bill is being examined. He clarified that the role of the Minister has been reduced significantly as it relates to the functioning of the GCAA.
The minister noted too that the GCAA collects landing fees and other monies on behalf of the Government that is recorded separately and the other fees are included in the entity’s audited finances. The Advanced Passenger System he said falls under the purview of the Ministry of Citizenship.
Training, he clarified is being done with no fees attached, however, Patterson noted that they are asked to sign an agreement to give a number of years service to the entity as obtains in the Public Sector, but if there is any breach then the cost aspect takes effect.
These and other issues relating to the new Civil Aviation Bill would be further discussed at the Select Committee meetings.