Ogle's development as a municipal airport has been under consideration since 1989
Noise management plan includes noise insulated aircraft

Stabroek News
March 11, 2000

The Ogle Airport Investor Group has submitted this article explaining the process of negotiations undertaken to date between the group and the government in relation to the development and operation of Ogle Airport.

The development of Ogle Airport into a Municipal Airport providing domestic and regional air services to international standards has been under consideration by both the PNC and PPP administrations since 1989. Serious, expert study and analysis has been made of the proposal since a Preliminary Master Plan for Timehri International and Ogle Regional Airports, commissioned by UNDP and ICAO, was undertaken in 1993. The Master Plan was revised and updated in 1995. In 1998 the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) commissioned a study examining privatisation options for Ogle (the Norconsult Report) and a Preliminary Environmental Assessment was concluded later the same year.

From a sugar company airstrip built to accommodate crop duster planes, today, Ogle is a lively, busy airport with some 20,000 flights a year moving 50,000 passengers and serving growing domestic demands, thanks to a multi-million dollar investment in aircraft and infrastructure by a number of local entrepreneurial aircraft operators with a vision of the future and the faith and determination to make it a reality. The airport does not, however, conform to international standards and its current operation does not meet international standard regulations. Where infrastructure development has the capacity to be profitable, it has become customary worldwide for governments to devolve such development on the private sector. This is the case with Ogle.

Ogle airport is now the hub of all domestic air traffic in Guyana, supporting Omai's operations, gold and diamond mining operations in the hinterland, flights to all tourist destinations, and domestic passenger traffic to Berbice, Essequibo and the hinterland, as well as medical emergency flights throughout the country. Aircraft owners have made substantial investment in building considerable infrastructure in hangars, workshops, offices and passenger facilities; an investment made in response to government's stated commitment to implement phase 1 of the Master Plan for Timehri and Ogle Regional Airport.

The rationale for Ogle as a Municipal Airport capable also of providing a regional air service is simple. Ogle is a 5-minute drive from Georgetown. Cheddi Jagan international is a 45-minute to 1-hour drive and at peak road traffic hours, even longer, but from Ogle, passengers are now able to fly to many domestic destinations in less than 20 minutes. Guyana, unlike any other CARICOM country, has, because of its size, a growing demand for private domestic aircraft services close to the capital city which are vital for the country's economic development.

The demands and the need, therefore, to develop Ogle into a truly commercial airport increase every day and the process is now well advanced. The aerodrome, to continue in operation, must, however, be upgraded to ICAO standards. The runway, now only 568 metres, must be replaced with a new strip 1200 metres long and significant investment must be made in the installation of additional infrastructure, health, safety and environmental features.

Very careful, measured and regulated steps must be taken to involve and protect surrounding residential communities. The new airport must be transferred to private, independent and professional ownership and operation. All these matters are provided for and required in the IADB supported Air Transport Reform Programme and are in the process of being carefully implemented.

Both Presidents Cheddi and Janet Jagan, since 1993, have consistently and publicly reiterated the government's resolve to complete the Ogle development project under private sector management and so has President Jagdeo. Prior to 1992, the Hoyte government had, in fact, initiated and supported the proposal.

Early in 1998, at the sod turning ceremony at the site of the Caricom Secretariat's new headquarters, both Mrs Jagan and Prime Minister Sam Hinds extolled the virtues of having the proposed Regional Airport close to the Secretariat. Referring to the local aircraft owners, President Jagan said: "we are giving them the task of improving the airport to make it a Municipal Airport." By October, 1998, President Bharrat Jagdeo, then Finance Minister, had announced at a press conference, government's intention to move to phase 2 of the "private sector development of the Ogle Airport". He announced that government had agreed with the aircraft owners "on a total private sector development" of Ogle in negotiations with the group.

In 1997, government requested IADB's support for technical assistance to study the Privatisation Options of Ogle Airport. The aircraft owners had submitted a preliminary proposal to develop and administer Ogle as a Municipal and Regional Airport. A Norwegian Company, Norconsult, was commissioned by the bank and the report was submitted on April 18, 1998.

The Norconsult Report concludes that the development of Ogle, with a new 1200 metres runway, would result in "a much more versatile airport", offering "a substantially wider variety of airlines and destinations". The report provides a detailed analysis and projection of air traffic demand, investment and design requirements and financial projections and makes specific recommendations on airport ownership and management structures. Other recommendations in the report deal with the phasing of implementation, air-transport policy to be adopted by government and the laws and regulations which should apply to the operations of Ogle as a Municipal and Regional Airport developed to international standards.

The report concludes that there is "a natural division of traffic" between Ogle and C.J. International and recommends a "long term target for traffic sharing where Timehri serves international traffic with medium/long range jet aircraft and Ogle serves international and domestic traffic with short/medium range turboprop aircraft."

The Norconsult Report proposes a four-step Action Plan. First, an Environmental Assessment; secondly, standards for the operation of the airport by potential investors; thirdly, the development of a business plan and preparation of an investment offering, and; finally, the need for institutional strengthening of the Civil Aviation Authority, the Air Transport Licensing Board and the Airports Authority, recently established by the Civil Aviation Act. All of these steps are actively in the process of implementation.

Immediately following submission of the Norconsult report, the IADB engaged Environmental Resources Management, Washington DC, to carry out an Environmental Assessment and Environmental Audit "to appraise the Environmental and social sustainability" of converting Ogle to a Municipal and Regional Airport. The Environmental Assessment was prepared as a condition of the IADB's US$30 million Air Transport Reform Programme for Guyana, which envisages the development of the Ogle Airport and the transference of the airport to private operation and ownership.

Guyana's Environmental Protection Agency Act, 1996, requires an Environmental Impact Assessment and the Environmental Audit, concluded in December, 1998, as part of the Environmental Assessment, was conducted to "minimise the additional work needed for a formal EIA". The agency has recently invited public submissions of any environment concerns by interested parties.

The IADB Environmental Assessment assessed "the potential for Environmental Impacts associated with the proposed Ogle Airport development." The assessment anticipates "secondary development" resulting from the development of the airport such as restaurants, shops, guest houses, vendors, services and concessions, all of which will provide considerable employment opportunities for the Plaisance/Ogle community, but, at the same time "would require careful management".

Noise abatement is identified as a major impact along with health and safety requirements and are the subject of specific recommendations to which both the government and the developers are committed as a condition of developing the airport. The assessment notes that, at present, the major cause of noise is the operation of "the early morning flights of the piston engine crop duster which is the noisiest aircraft at Ogle." "Relocating the runway to the south would reduce noise levels, except on the approach flight path, where there is no habitation."

The assessment recommends the introduction of "a noise management plan", including acoustic screening, noise barriers, and noise insulated aircraft. It proposes a three-part Environmental Action Plan, based on the Environmental Audit and designed "to minimise damage to the natural environment and disruption to local residents." Specific scheduled actions, are recommended, estimated to cost some US$340,000, to address "existing liabilities", to be carried out "during the airport development programme" and "by public sector organisations".

Funding to be provided to the government under the IADB Air Transport Reform Programme is contingent upon compliance with, inter alia an environmental impact mitigation programme as recommended by ERM.

In January last year, the Ogle aircraft owners and operators investment group submitted a proposal to government to formally lease Ogle Airport to a company to be formed to develop and administer Ogle Airport, in accordance with the government's Master Plan and the IADB's Air Transport Reform Programme.

The proposal is based on the recommendations of the Norconsult Privatisation Option Report and to conform with the Environmental Assessment Report. The group has further submitted for government's consideration a "ten year business plan - 2000-2010" which assumes acceptance of the IADB Norconsult Report and implementation of the Environmental Impact Assessment requirements in order for Ogle to operate as a Municipal and Regional Airport under private ownership. Government has confirmed its commitment to the transfer of the aerodrome to a private operator and has commenced negotiations with the Ogle Airport Investor Group. The government is being advised professionally by external consultants for the negotiations for the lease and development of the Ogle Airport.