By Ray Chickrie
I flew from Eugene Correia International Ogle, to Suriname’s Zorg-en-Hoop city airport some weeks ago, and I was reminded that two years ago, I wrote that the hub potential is at Eugene Correia International Airport, previously called Ogle, and not at Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA), Guyana. Now since the 13th oil and gas discoveries off the Guyana coast and an estimated recoverable resource of over six billion oil-equivalent barrels, we are witnessing the rise of Guyana.
ExxonMobil is building its Guyana headquarters on ten acres of land that it leased from Ogle. In January 2018, the media in Guyana reported that “ExxonMobil also wants to build a training center and a helipad. One source said, “I am also being told that they will throw up a ‘living quarters’ which can be considered a hotel.” The issue of “living quarters” did not go well with the local hotel and tourism sectors.
Since this development, the cost of property, land, and space in and around the airport has more than quadrupled. Thus, it is not surprising that more international airlines are exploring linking Ogle with the global business community in Europe and North America to profit from the “Guyana miracle.”
Jamaica, Barbados, and the Dominican Republic have a significantly better tourism product, but now Ogle airport is growing rapidly and Guyana will have plenty of money to invest in aviation infrastructure and tourism. This is why airlines are looking at ways and means of benefitting from the rise of Guyana’s oil and gas industry. Ogle is now on their radar because of its strategic role in this new oil and gas surge.
However, Guyana and Suriname are slow to heed the needs of airlines expressing their interest to enter these two countries or to expand existing services. Application and inquiry sometimes take forever to get a response. Nepotism, tribalism, and lack of transparency retards growth but they don’t see it.
“They really move slow or maybe they don’t have the money to make the investment,” remarked an airline official.
It’s hard to get the airline, the airport, and the government to move at the same pace. The airlines are blaming the government for empty promises. No airport can grow without the collaboration of the airlines, the government, and the airport authorities.
Constraints and progress and heavy taxes and fees
Guyana and Suriname are costly vacation spots. Lack of air connectivity attribute to exorbitant airfares. In addition, Guyana has poor infrastructure, no legacy airlines, no dedicated airline, and antiquated legal guidelines. On top of this, high taxes and fees impede connectivity in Guyana and the Caribbean. The issue has been raised over and over and at the highest level, yet nothing has been done. For example, between Guyana’s Ogle Airport and Suriname’s Zorg-en-Hoop Airport, a roundtrip ticket is USD$ 400. And of that, 120 is part taxes and fees. This is more like a roundtrip between Guyana and Miami.
The aviation industry in both Guyana and Suriname is growing. Guyana just opened a new arrival terminal, which is already too small. Suriname can learn from Guyana’s CJIA’s airport debacle and should ensure a new airport terminal is fitted with office and transit space. You can’t be a hub if you don’t have upscale transit space. This investment in aviation infrastructure in Guyana and Suriname is attacking more airlines. American and Copa Airlines now provide daily flights to Guyana from NYC, Miami and Panama and more are coming soon like JetBlue in 2020. Also, Copa has commenced services to Suriname twice weekly and all flights are about 85 percent. American is also looking to enter the Suriname market.
Ogle must expand: European Airlines show interest
Every ten minutes at Ogle Airport a plane takes off or lands. Tourism, trade, commerce, and now the oil and gas sectors are putting more demand on the infrastructure at Ogle.
At Ogle, Trans Guyana Airways (TGA) and LIAT provide the only international routes to Paramaibo, Port of Spain and Barbados. Some people fly JetBlue to Barbados or Trinidad and take Liat to Ogle because of its very convenient airport on the outskirts of Georgetown. TGA has a good record of safety and service. Just recently, the Guyana based airline added to its fleet – two Beechcraft 1900D. I have used the company several times on the Ogle-Zorg-en-Hoop/Suriname route, and I am happy with their punctuality, security check, and overall service.
The Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) revealed that a European airline is interested in the Guyana market. This European airline may be eyeing Ogle with the hope of connecting Ogle to Paramaribo. The airline may be also looking to link up with Port of Spain and other potential regional airports that could expand to northern Brazil like, Belem and Manaus to Paramaribo and then to Amsterdam.
TGA is poised to become a player at OGLE and may act as a feeder for international airlines that wants to connect Ogle to their network. TGA could very well become the airline that adds Guyana to Port of Spain, Boa Visa, Belem, Manaus, Cayenne, and Paramaribo’s Johan Pengel. They already fly to Suriname’s city airport, Zorg-en-Hoop. This could all feed into bigger international airline’s network. Cayenne has its constraints especially that it is an EU territory and travellers from non-EU territory won’t able to transit there easily without a visa
The current infrastructure at Ogle Airport can’t keep up with the upcoming growth. The airport management did not anticipate this unprecedented growth. The terminal will need to be vastly expanded; the runway can be lengthened to accommodate the Airbus 220 which carries about 145 passengers. Also, a taxiway must be built. The current runway is being used as a taxiway and this delay incoming and outgoing flights. There is land for expansion around the airport.
The airport needs to feel and mirror the wealthy fauna and flora of Guyana. It lacks any attractiveness and there is nothing to connect it to Guyana’s ambitious “green state” vision. There is no duty-free shopping or a proper place to eat.
In the future, travellers will have choices to mix their trip with visits to Guyana’s iconic Kaieteur Falls, Paramaribo, the “cultural” capital of South America, where India, Ghana, Indonesia, and China meet; and the beautiful beaches of Barbados.
Cargo to Guyana is on the rise. Business travellers are already increasing. The route is no longer just an “ethnic” one. There are about 30 percent people of non-Guyanese origin travelling to Guyana. Oil and gas workers, their families and others moving to take up jobs in Guyana is rapidly increasing. One hotel in Guyana is adding an additional 100 rooms just for ExxonMobil workers. Accommodation in Guyana has increased by 40 percent in the past two years.
Ogle Airport, a private, public cooperation success story on the outskirts of Georgetown, the capital of Guyana. ExxonMobil has some helicopters based there, and there is frequent traffic from Ogle to the oil platform and drilling sites. So, the business community and oil workers will be able to fly for example, from Amsterdam to Ogle via Paramaribo, and avoid the long lines and chaos at North American airports. More importantly, the issue of transit visa which is a big problem for business travellers from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America when transiting through North America will be eliminated.
One major European airline is exploring this lucrative route. Business travellers depend on fast, reliable and good service, and major airlines are eyeing the Guyana market. Guyana has more barrels of oil per capita than any country in the world and that includes Saudi Arabia, so naturally, this wealth will spin off in Suriname.
Currently, Suriname’s Johan Pengel (PBM) Airport is upgrading its departure area and soon the check-in area. This is an interim project that aims to improve passenger flow and comfort, while an entirely new terminal will be completed in the next five years. This project and a loan to make it a reality is subject to parliament’s approval. The airport officials plan to continue improving the airport using incoming revenue from departure taxes.
Management is hoping to improve the immigration counters at arrival with the more modern implementation of digital signature and multiple language signs. Soon a blueprint of the airport will be made public. Cooperation between Guyana and Suriname will continue to grow their aviation industry if they complement each other and not complete.