By Ray Chickrie
Caribbean News Now contributor
GEORGETOWN, Guyana -- Officials from global aviation hub, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), arrived in Guyana on Monday to negotiate an air service agreement that will see at least one of UAE’s three major flag carriers operating flights to Guyana in the very near future, according to a government press release on Tuesday.
On Tuesday, Guyana and UAE officials held discussions at the ministry of foreign affairs in Georgetown. Among the Guyana delegation were the director of Guyana’s Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), Zulficar Mohamed; Alvin Majeed from the Cheddi Jagan International Airport Corporation (CJIA); and minister of public works of Guyana, Robeson Benn. The team from UAE comprised from the UAE’s federal government, director general, Saif Mohammed Al Suwaidi and Air transport agreements chief specialist Valerie Browne and from the Department of Transport -- Abu Dhabi, and senior analyst -- government affairs, Saeed Al Suwaidi.
Benn told the UAE delegation, “There are opportunities, via Guyana, we expect and we intend for foreign countries and air service operators to use Guyana as a regional and international hub for the development of the aviation sector, and for the development of other economical and tourism and other linkages between the continents and specifically between the countries like Guyana and the United Arab Emirates.”
Al Suwaidi in his opening remarks noted that it would have taken the UAE’s delegation days to travel to Guyana.
“So the need to connect your country to our region is very important,” he said.
He also reaffirmed his government’s openness to engage with the government of Guyana on any future engagement in the aviation sector.
The UAE could possibly help Guyana develop a local airline with capital investment or a joint partnership with one of that country’s airlines. However, Guyana, with a small aviation market and a poor tourist infrastructure may be far from seeing Emirates or Etihad aircrafts touch down at CJIA.
The government is nevertheless hoping to transform Guyana into an aviation hub and is currently investing about US$150 million to modernize and expand its international airport that will accommodate aircraft such as the Boeing 777 and 747-400. And Guyana is keen to have the UAE invest in the sector.
Guyana’s CJIA is classified as a category 2 airport by the US Department of Transportation, which means that Guyana-based carriers are restricted from flying to the United States. They can only wet-lease aircraft from category 1 countries.
Guyana president Donald Ramotar also held discussions with the UAE officials who called on him on Tuesday. Ramotar and vice president and prime minister of the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum in November of last year held bilateral talks in Dubai, and Ramator invited the UAE to invest in Guyana’s aviation and tourism sectors.
The UAE is keen to advance economic ties with the Latin America and the Caribbean and has launched a “diplomatic offensive in Latin America and the Caribbean.” Sheikh Mohammed recently toured several Latin American countries and his foreign minister spent ten days in the region, which included a visited to The Bahamas some weeks ago. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) is looking to open a joint diplomatic mission in the UAE.
The UAE is home to some of the world top airlines, namely, the Emirates, Etihad and Air Arabia. All three airlines together have in their fleet about 400 aircraft and have on order about 450. In 2013, passenger traffic through Dubai, excluding Sharjah and Abu Dhabi, reached 66.4 million and could soon rival London Heathrow.
Etihad and Emirates already flies to Argentina and Brazil and are looking to expand to Mexico, Cuba, Colombia, Peru and Venezuela.