Major strides in modernising CJIA to expand international reach

The Cheddi Jagan International Airport underwent a series of modifications to enhance its capabilities, as well as foster its transformation into an aviation hub ready to receive passengers and air travel in a more manageable, practical, comfortable and modernised environment.

Since reassuming office in 2020, the Dr Mohamed Irfaan Ali-led Administration has mapped out a detailed expansion agenda for Guyana’s main port of entry.

The completed curtain wall at CJIA

The CJIA modernisation project, conceptualised under the PPP/C government’s previous tenure in office, withstood a number of setbacks but has emerged as a prime international hub for investment spanning the tourism, aviation and public works sectors.

Improving Infrastructure

Completed in June of 2022, the project included the construction of a super structure, building a curtain wall, and construction of two boarding corridors to accommodate type D and E aircraft.

The CJIA now has six air bridges

This contract was signed in 2011, and supported by over US$130 million financing from the Chinese the following year. The government had envisaged eight boarding bridges for the airport.

However, the government in 2020 only found that the CJIA had four boarding bridges and a drastically reduced modernisation project.

Guided by a vision of transformation, the government pressed for the CJIA expansion project be completed in accordance with the initial contract, and in December 2020, the Chinese company, China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), agreed to foot a US$9 million bill for additional work at the airport.

The CJIA now has six air bridges

In 2021, to aid the transformation of the CJIA into a regional transit hub, government set aside some $400 million for the installation of a modern baggage handling system. The previous system had proved to be a security risk, and the provision allowed for the acquisition of a conveyor belt service that will take bags to screening, a holding area, and another secondary screening, before the flight is boarded by passengers. 

Other upgrades included an extension of the runway and the installation of an Instrument Landing System to assist pilots when landing in unfavourable weather conditions.

Further, this modernisation agenda saw the procurement, installation, and commissioning of two new boarding bridges.

These additional air bridges will make it easier for passengers to exit the aircraft. Moreover, it will enable the facility to accommodate Code D and E types of airplanes.

The D and E type aircraft are the wide-body vessels that are used in transatlantic flights. These types can carry over 300 passengers, and are much larger than the ones that frequent the CJIA.

This takes the total number of boarding bridges to six.

Minister of Public Works, Bishop Juan Edghill said during the commissioning ceremony, said “The vision was to bring the Cheddi Jagan International Airport into a place of becoming a hub of aviation activity in this part of the world and there is no way that we would have been able to achieve that with what we met when we came into government in August 2020.

“We were not going to accept the reduced footprint, and we were not going to accept the reduced approach to the modernization of the Cheddi Jagan International Airport.”

The expansion will also see the establishment of a commercial centre, which is expected to accommodate about 20 concession areas.

These investments in infrastructure sought to not only improve operations for Guyanese, but to also attract foreign investment, and boost tourism.

This dedication has borne fruit, as the country’s air traffic has advanced 25 per cent above its pre-pandemic numbers.

This speaks volumes about the impact that the building out of facilities can have on the country’s economy.

Expanding international reach

Meanwhile, on March 27, British Airways officially arrived in Guyana to begin its twice weekly flights via the St Lucia route. This move is a transformational one for Guyana, as it not only advances the bilateral relations between Guyana and the United Kingdom, but it also identifies Guyana as an attractive route to other international carriers.

Minister Edghill has said, “Guyana’s transformational agenda is not something in isolation. President Ali is very decisive, deliberate and visionary about what he wants, and what he directs his ministers to pursue. When I took responsibility for this sector, it was clear that what he wanted was that Guyana will become a hub of air travel in this part of the world where we will connect the Caribbean and South America and provide services to every possible destination.

“We are growing. And we will continue to grow. So, there are two things we’re doing. We’re expanding facilities at the airport, and we are growing routes,” British Airways has the capacity to carry 332 passengers.

British Airways arrived in Guyana on March 27

The government’s heavy investments into developing the country’s infrastructure and services, coupled with the continued growth of the oil and gas sector has seen a massive influx of traffic, and government is aiming for 1 million passenger arrivals by 2025.  

This attraction is seen in the recent expression of interest shown by a Dominican Republic air carrier, SkyCana.

Just last week, the executives of the aircraft made an exploratory visit to Guyana, and met with aviation and government officials to explore the possibility of flying this route.

During the meeting, the officials discussed possible flight operations between Houston, Texas, and Toronto, Canada, via the Dominican Republic.

Chief Executive Officer of SkyCana, Frank Diaz, during a media engagement last week, said,“We are here to collaborate with Guyana, with an intent to bring more operations, to connect to more destinations such as Canada…and the United States. We are also looking to begin the development in the transit of tourists between Guyana and the Dominican Republic…and also begin the development in transit of tourists from Guyana to the Dominican Republic itself. That way you can perform additional destinations for us to travel, and enjoy different places.”

He added that the airline has aircraft that have a passenger capacity of up to 377 seats, assuring that it is capable of supplying Guyana’s needs in this regard.

Dominican Republic air carrier, SkyCana, has shown an interest in flying the Guyana route

Additionally, Chairman of CJIA Board Sanjeev Datadin, stated that this exploratory visit serves as a statement of intent, a demonstration of their commitment and confidence in investing in Guyana.

The intention is that the flights will have a refuelling stop in the Dominican Republic when flying to Houston and Toronto.

Further, airlift expansion for the tourism sector continues to be a priority for this government, and to this end, it is expected that an additional service will be introduced on the Guyana-Canada route by the end of the first quarter.

Improving human capacity

Also, the government has also been investing in its human capacity, to improve the quality of service provided by aviation personnel. As a result, the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s most recent audit saw Guyana being adjudged at 77 per cent in compliance, while the global average was around 67 per cent. A number of training programmes have also been embarked on to advance this agenda.