Price increase for passengers, cargo to hinterland regions ‘unscrupulous’- GCAA
Director General of the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), Col. (ret’d) Egbert Field on Saturday criticized domestic airlines for increasing their costs for transporting cargo and passengers to hinterland regions.
“Those operators who are doubling the prices for cargo and for passengers, they’re very unscrupulous,” he told the News Room.
Field was responding to concerns raised by the Amerindian People’s Association (APA) on Friday about airlines increasing their freight and passenger charges to communities in Region Eight.
Mapping and Geographic Information System (GIS) Specialist of the APA, Michael McGarrel, said Air Services Limited (ASL) increased their freight charges from $130 per pound to $290 while passenger seats moved from $33,000 per person to $68,000 to Region Eight.
In a comment on the News Room’s Facebook page, he added that the return fare to Paramakatoi village is $ 109,800; this is 68,000 from the Eugene F. Correia International Airport to Paramakatoi and $41,800 to return to Georgetown.
On the same comment thread, ASL Executive Annette Arjoon defended the airlines’ move. She noted that the social distancing measures implemented by the Government which restricts the amount of persons who can travel in one aircraft, “would make some destinations uneconomical (not even cover the cost of the aviation fuel in some instances).”
Arjoon further added that the cargo on scheduled flight is usually offset by outbound passengers but there has been a decrease in the number of person travelling to those areas since the measures were implemented.
“With the rainy season almost upon us we need to pay attention to the deplorable conditions on some airstrips which add to faster wear and tear of aircraft also,” she added.
Arjoon, like the APA called on the Government to implement relief measures for domestic carriers. She said there should be “relief measures such as removal of landing fees and contact charges, VAT wherever applicable etc.”
However, the Director General of the GCAA maintained that there is no need for increased prices.
“…fine they have a 50% of their passenger capacity so if the aircraft carries eight, then you can only carry four but…if you have four passengers and the weight of those passengers come up to 600 or 800 pounds and that aircraft can carry 2,000 pounds so then you can carry the other 1,200 pounds as cargo,” he explained.
Field told the News Room that passenger travel has only been restricted to and from border locations to guard against the transportation of COVID-19 patients coming from Brazil, Suriname or Venezuela. These areas include Lethem, Eteringbang, Port Kaituma and Methews Ridge unless permission is given by the National COVID-19 Task Force (NCTF).
But the carriage of cargo even to the border locations are not restricted.
The only requirement is that the cargo is sanitized.
“In carrying of passengers 50% down from your usual load, that is half your weight in passengers, they can carry the rest of the weight in cargo so there is no need to raise the price,” he reiterated, adding that “if you don’t have it today, you can always put back your flight a day when you can amalgamate your cargo and passengers and carry them in.”
He expressed disappointment in the stance taken by the domestic airlines and noted that letters will be sent to operators inquiring about the increased charges.
Field said in some cases, persons charter aircraft from Roraima Airways and then increase the price for passengers and they too will be dealt with.
Additionally, the APA said on Friday that the measures were implemented too suddenly, not giving Indigenous persons the time to stock up on groceries and fuel.
Field disagreed with this opinion noting that “When we sat down to put this directive together, we did not do it willy nilly, this was well thought out taking into consideration the indigenous people in the hinterland.”
He added that if it had not been done in that time or if persons were told beforehand, there is a possibility that an infected person would have travelled home, causing an entire village to be affected.
Such a situation would have been difficult to manage since some villages are located far from health care facilities.
“If we did not do it at that time, you’ll have people going into the interior and infecting the village and then we have a bigger problem…it was done at the time it had to be done when we look at the numbers,” he said.
Upto April 17, there were 63 confirmed COVID-19 cases.