The line to pay the departure tax at CJIA
The crowded departure area at CJIA
Check-in lines at CJIA
New terminal construction at CJIA
By Ray Chickrie
Caribbean News Now contributor
GEORGETOWN, Guyana -- The government of Guyana has scaled back the planned expansion and modernisation of the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) amidst growing overcrowding that is leading to “substandard” conditions facing travellers using the airport.
This became very evident during the recent holiday season. Last Monday, three flights departing for New York City around the same time, led to long lines everywhere and extending outside of the terminal. In addition, the departure lounge was overcrowded. Every seat was occupied and some passengers had to stand for hours.
Also this past Monday afternoon and early evening, Eastern Airlines and Caribbean Airlines, both using Boeing 737-800s, and Dynamic Airlines using a Boeing 767, were departing for JFK. These flights were full. Lines from the check in counters extended outside of the terminal. There were also flights departing for Panama and Kingston. This led to an overcrowded situation at the check in and departure areas. The check in process was long and arduous.
One traveler described the airport as “sub-standard” and complained about the long lines at the check in counters and lack of seating in the departure area. Moreover, the chairs are outdated, uncomfortable and made of stiff plastic. Another passenger who visited Guyana from New York complained about the lack of anything to do in the departure lounge.
“There are no shops to eat, sit have a drink or buy something like an aspirin,” said one passenger. The departure longue at CJIA has a canteen that is about six feet long and offers a few sandwiches and pastries. There are three duty free shops at the airport. The airport has little to offer passengers, but ironically the government has just recently increased the departure and security fees.
Airlines operating at CJIA claim that the lack of space at the airport has led to unpleasant passenger experiences such as long lines and overcrowding. They are not taking blame for the congestion. On Monday, Caribbean Airlines quickly facilitated its passengers check in but other airlines had extremely long lines. There were also long lines at the departure tax payment booth also, with just two people facilitating this process. One does half of the job and then passes it to the other who finishes the task.
Despite these unsatisfactory conditions at CJIA, and an increase in the number of travellers into and out of Guyana, and the country poised to be a major oil producer, the new government in office plans to retain this outdated regular concrete terminal that looks like a warehouse; it lacks sufficient space and proper lighting.
Guyana’s minister of transportation and infrastructure, David Patterson, has nevertheless revealed that his government has significantly scaled back the airport modernization and expansion project and will retain the current concrete edifice to use as the departure terminal. The construction of the new arrival terminal has commenced; however, the edifice looks modest and meager. The public should not expect an iconic structure of steel, glass and Guyanese greenheart and purpleheart wood. It is reported that a Dutch architect worked on the design of the project, but the government has not released a sketch of the new terminal.
An increased in traffic activity at the CJIA is attributed to a few factors. One is the doubling of airlines now serving Guyana. There are about nine airlines servicing Guyana currently, an increase of six from about ten years ago. This has increased competition and reduced airfares, resulting in more people are travelling now. There is also an influx of Cuban shoppers to Guyana and Suriname. In addition, the United States has been generous in granting visitors’ visas to Guyanese and that has more than doubled the number of Guyanese visiting the US.
According to the CEO of CJIA, Ramesh Ghir, several carriers have experienced an increase in passengers carried in 2016. As at November 2016, Surinam Airways recorded a 65 percent increase; Fly Jamaica Airlines, 79 percent; Insel Air, 16 percent; Dynamic Airways, 23 percent; and Copa Airlines, 97 percent.
Copa almost doubled the number of passengers moved, which Ghir said can be attributed to the airline increasing its flights from two to four weekly. Caribbean Airlines on the other hand, recorded a ten percent decrease. This, Ghir said, was due to the airline reducing its flights.
Last year saw the introduction of three new carriers to Guyana. Ghir said that Eastern Airlines commenced operations in May 2016 and, as at November 2016, the airline had moved almost 16,500 passengers.
Another introduction to the airport was Fly Allways, which commenced operations in August 2016; however, that carrier’s passenger load was insignificant and, in any event, Fly Allways will cease operations on January 15.
Honduran carrier, EasySky, which commenced operation in October 2016, transports mostly Cuban passengers via Honduras to Guyana, and has reportedly moved 11,700 passengers in two months.