In March 1913, a German daredevil named George Schmidt made local history when he flew his monoplane over Georgetown, dropping messages from the sky.
That marked the birth of civil aviation in Guyana, even though the outbreak of World War I forced colonial authorities to ban flying over the country — then known as British Guiana — for the next six years.
Last month, on Mar. 26, authorities marked the 100th anniversary of Schmidt’s humble flight with a ceremonial groundbreaking of the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority’s new headquarters at Ogle International Airport.
Only three days later, Ogle marked the completion of its Phase II Development and its certification as a Class 2C airport. That will allow the once-sleepy suburban airport to receive larger aircraft such as the Dash 8s and ATRs used by LIAT and Caribbean Airlines on flights linking Guyana to Barbados, Trinidad and other islands.
“Ogle’s development is a major transformational achievement and, perhaps, the finest example of public-private partnership contributing to the growth of the economy,” said Michael O. Correia Jr., owner of Trans Guyana Airways (TGA) and president of the Aircraft Owners Association of Guyana Inc. (AOAG).
“This decade-long investment is remarkable, too, for the fact that it is an entirely Guyanese enterprise utilizing Guyanese private-sector capital, Guyanese management and operational skills, and was built with Guyanese engineering construction skills and labor,” he said.
Ogle, which occupies 441 acres of land, boasts a 4,000-foot runway and is located seven miles east of Georgetown and 24 miles northeast of Cheddi Jagan International Airport at Timehri. It serves as the base of operations for 13 airlines maintaining a fleet of 44 airplanes that transport some 80,000 passengers and 5,000 tons of cargo per year between Georgetown and Guyana’s vast, sparsely populated hinterland.
Ogle Airport Inc., a subsidiary of AOAG, has managed the aerodrome since 2001. Ogle gained international airport status in 2009 following a $3 million upgrade. Over the next five years — as foreign investment in Guyana’s lucrative mining and forestry sectors increases — authorities expect the number of aircraft movements to jump by 50 percent. Projections call for 125,000 takeoffs and landings per year, while operations will be extended to 16 hours per day to accommodate evening traffic.
In addition, the terminal will be enlarged to handle up to 100 passengers at a time, while maintaining international airport safety and security standards.
Another pioneer of the Guyanese aviation industry is Air Services Ltd., which has 23 aircraft in its fleet as well as a Bell 206 long-range helicopter. The company is run by prominent pilot Annette Arjoon-Martins and operates 150 flights a week. In July 2012, Air Services dedicated its new departure and VIP lounge at Ogle, where it also houses its maintenance operations and flight school — both of which are GCAA-approved.
Investing outside Georgetown
Outside of Georgetown, the government has also invested $300,000 to expand the airstrip in Lethem — along Guyana’s southwestern border with Brazil — and plans a passenger terminal there as well. In mid-February, TGA began scheduled domestic flights from Ogle to two new destinations: the town of Bartica — located along the west bank of the Essequibo River and home of the 187-acre Baganara Island Resort.
Finally, a newly rehabilitated, 3,000-foot airstrip at Surama is likely to boost tourist arrivals to the nearby Surama Village Eco-Lodge, located six kilometers off the main Georgetown-Lethem road. Built in 1998, the lodge attracted 42 tourists that year; in 2012, visitor arrivals to the tiny village had jumped to more than 800. The lodge already has bookings for 2014 and requests for 2015 rates.
Besides Ogle, the AOAG has another milestone to celebrate this year: the 20th anniversary of the Art Williams & Harry Wendt Aeronautical Engineering School.
Founded by Capt. Malcolm Chan-A-Sue and Col. Charles Hudson in 1993, it’s the only accredited engineering school of its kind in the Caribbean; from seven students in 1997, enrollment has now grown to 85.
It’s accredited and certified by the GCAA and by the civil aviation authorities of Jamaica, Suriname and Trinidad & Tobago. The school’s staff includes instructors with university degrees and years of experience in management, education, electrical engineering, mathematics and medicine. In addition, all engineers are involved in the day-to-day maintenance of aircraft throughout the Caribbean.
The school’s mission statement is simple: “To develop aircraft engineering skills and technical expertise essential to the development of air transport within Guyana, the Caribbean Community and the world at large.”