Safety concerns cancel Universal schoolchildren free flight
By Abigail Butler
Guyana Chronicle
December 2, 2002

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ONE hundred and sixty schoolchildren boarded a Universal Airlines aircraft at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Timehri, yesterday but were disappointed by not getting to fly over Guyana as promised.

The disappointment was etched in their faces and some even displayed traces of tears after being told, by Mr. Maurice Gajadhar, owner of Timehri Handling Services, that the Civil Aviation Department (CAD) had not granted permission for the flight.

Public Relations Officer in Ministry of public works, Mr. Ajay Baksh said the plane was grounded because of CAD's safety concerns.

He said the top priority for CAD is ensuring air safety/security and such an application would have to meet that requirement.

However, during the hour they spent on the plane, the children were taxied along the airport runway and enjoyed the courtesies afforded commercial passengers.

They were also exposed to the safety measures on board, including the use of life jackets, oxygen masks, seat belts and emergency exits.

With some encouragement from media operative, Mondale Smith, the guests clapped and shook their bodies to Celine Dion's 'I'm Alive', which was played several times for their entertainment.

Universal Airlines had previously announced it would give students from schools countrywide an opportunity to view Guyana from the sky in its Boeing 767 during an hour-and-a-half long flight.

Senior Vice-President of Universal, Mr. Haribhajan Persaud said the trip would have given those chosen a chance to see the real beauty of their homeland from above as they might not be able to do so otherwise.
The Ministry of Education was mandated to select who would benefit and some children travelled from as far as the North West District, starting since the night before, while others overnighted in Georgetown to reach Timehri in time for the 08:00 hours check-in time.

They all boarded the aircraft around 09:30 hours and, after they had waited for a while, the flight cancellation was announced, following discussions with CAD officials.

Gajadhar told the frustrated group: "It is a great sadness that we allowed you to come from all parts of Guyana and now here you are in our beautiful aircraft, well seated and, while it is so much fun to have you on board, we can only take you to the end of the runway and back.

"Please understand that the owners of Universal Airlines (who flew into the country to go on the trip) want to do this for you but, unfortunately, the people in (authority) thought otherwise."

Gajadhar said they were pleading with the authorities for hours yesterday morning but to no avail.

"On behalf of Universal Airlines, we want to sincerely apologise for bringing you all the way from Skeldon, from Essequibo and from Georgetown to go on this flight...please accept our deepest apologies. We would like to take you to the end of the world but, unfortunately, we cannot do so...we are really, really sorry," he said.

For Surujpaul Singh of Patentia Secondary School and Joy Low and Lucretia of Vreed-en-Hoop Community High School, it was an experience to which they were looking forward, having never flown.

Kelvin France of David Rose Secondary School was very nervous when he embarked and was hoping to tell his friends about the excursion on his return.

With a wide grin on his face, he said he was feeling "nice" and was carrying a little notebook in which to write about whatever he had seen to tell of it subsequently.

Allison Allicock acknowledged her frustration, as well.

"I have never been on an aircraft before and I was hoping…” she told the Chronicle.

Universal Vice-President, Special Marketing and Revenue Management, Mr. Vishnu Mahadeo later told reporters the company had done all it could to avoid the disappointing situation.

"Today a beautiful idea was not allowed to prosper...people do not understand the concept of working together for something golden," he lamented.

He said Universal had facilitated the flight at its own cost but allowed the Ministry of Education to select the beneficiaries.

Noting that some children were at the airport from as early as 04:00 hours, he said: “This disappointment will last for generations. This day will be remembered because we were trying to do what we do is a loss not to these kids alone but to Guyanese as a whole."

"We are here to serve Guyanese both here and abroad and we will continue to do that. We are disappointed about this but we will continue to serve our Guyanese community," Mahadeo pledged.

He said Universal had applied for the flight permission more than two weeks ago and was told Saturday night that a verbal response was made although, to date, there has not been a formal denial.

Mahadeo said Universal was informed that there was some technical problem but what it was had not been made clear.

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