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…seven domestic airline services tell CCJ, accuse former gov’t of failing to consult on the change
By Svetlana Marshall
The move in 2016 to rename the Ogle International Airport, the Eugene F. Correia International Airport has placed small aircraft operators at a further competitive disadvantage – a situation, which could have been prevented had the then Government consulted with the operators ahead of the change.
This was the line of argument put by Attorney-at-Law Devindra Kissoon when he appeared before the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), on Tuesday, on behalf of the aircraft operators in the case – Air Services Limited v The Attorney General and Others.
When the airport was renamed on May 9, 2016 by then President David Granger, seven of the domestic airline services in Guyana and the National Air Transport Association (NATA) sought judicial review of the then Minister of Public Infrastructure David Patterson’s approval of the change.
However, the orders sought were refused by the High Court, and the appeal against that decision was dismissed by the Court of Appeal. The operators – which also include: Roraima Airways Limited, Hinterland Aviation Incorporated, Domestic Airways Incorporated, Wings Aviation Limited, Hopkinson Mining and Logistics Incorporation – moved to the CCJ but special leave was only granted to address whether the Minister had a duty to consult with the applicants before approving the suggested name change.
In his virtual appearance before the panel of judges led by Justice Jacob Witt, Kissoon, in laying the foundation for his argument, explained that the airport – a public facility – was developed out of a Public Private Partnership (PPP) agreement between the Government of Guyana and the Ogle Airport Incorporation (OAI). Under such an agreement, OAI, the lessee, is responsible for the development and management of the airport subject to government’s scrutiny pursuant to the lease and the provisions of the Guyana Civil Aviation Act. “It has always been understood and the facility, though leased to a private operator, is not a facility which is strictly private in nature,” Kissoon told the CCJ.
He submitted that the concerned operators are not board members or shareholders of OAI and are simply arm’s length lessees of the space that OAI provides to private aircraft operators. The relation between the two sides, he posited, has been strained. “Historically, the services between OAI and the applicants have been strained and acrimonious. This arises out of the fact that the majority shareholder (in) OAI is owned and controlled by a group of companies, which I refer to as the Correia Group, which is a dominant player in the local domestic aviation airspace,” Kissoon explained.
He added: “The Correia Group being the majority shareholder (of OAI) also competes wiht each of the aircraft operators for the domestic aviation space.”
He said the then Government, though cognizant of the concerns and challenges repeatedly raised by the small aircraft operators, proposed a name change for the airport in favor of the Correia Group. The attorney submitted that once the suggestion was made in 2015, the group of aircraft operators made known their concern to both the Board of OAI and the then Minister of Public Infrastructure, as he referenced to a number of letters written by the operators.
A letter written by the operators on November 17, 2015, Kissoon said, stated that the renaming of the airport would give the Correia Group of Companies an even more competitive advantage over the other operators.
According to the Attorney, a commitment was given by the Minister of Public Infrastructure that the Government would review the concerns of the operators, however, he said despite this commitment, the Government proceeded to rename the airport without meaningful consultation, placing the small aircraft operators at a disadvantage. “At its highest there was a legitimate expectation based on the course of conduct between the parties that the appellants would have been consulted and their views would have been taken into consideration, prior to effecting the name change,” Kissoon said.
On behalf of the appellants, he asked the CCJ to quash the decision of the Minister to rename the airport, and order that meaningful consultation be done between the two sides.
However, Guyana’s Solicitor General, Nigel Hawke, who appeared on behalf of the respondents – the Attorney General, the Minister of Public Infrastructure and the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority – said there was no commitment given for consultation to take place before the name change.
From the onset, the Solicitor General told the CCJ that there was a “clear unanimous” decision by OAI’s Board, approving a name change. “The suggestion of a name change was proposed by the then President. It wasn’t that Ogle Airport Inc. Board moved to have a name change under Clause 24 of the Lease,” Hawke said while emphasizing that the proposal was made by the then President.
He said the Board of OAI adopted the proposal and Government offered its no objection. “We concede and we accept that there were concerns by certain operators within the sector and those concerns from the evidence would have been raised with OAI Board,” the Solicitor General said.
He further told the Court that on the “face of the evidence there was no expressed promise made by the Minister” to consult with the operations.