…major upgrades expected this year – MPIGuyana’s hinterland aerodromes are slated for major upgrades this year as the Public Infrastructure Ministry (MPI) begins the process of establishing a remote monitoring operation to be known as Aerodrome Management System (AMS).This system which will allow for monitoring of the aerodromes without physical presence, falls under the Ministry’s latest project – the Hinterland Aerodrome Development Policy (HADP).Residents and officials of Paramakatoi attend a meeting held by the MPI team during the recent village consultationThe project consists of four areas: the development of a policy to address hinterland aerodromes; the development of an administrative framework; the addressing of maintenance issues, and the sustainability of the aerodromes.The project was recently launched and will see MPI officials visiting hinterland communities to physically assess the airstrips and receive input from residents on the best way forward.In fact, on Tuesday and Wednesday last the team visited the villages of Kato and Paramakatoi in Region Eight (Potaro-Siparuni). The airstrips in these communities are just two of more than a dozen that are expected to be upgraded from across the four hinterland regions, that is, Regions One (Barima-Waini), Seven (Cuyuni-Mazaruni), Eight (Potaro/Siparuni) and Nine (Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo).The team of six comprised of Director (ag) of Air Transport Management Saheed Sulaman; Chief Transport Planning Officer Patrick Thompson; Transport Planning Officer/Engineer Ryan Singh; Transport Planning Technician Jamaal Blair; Surveyor James Lindo; and Surveying Technician Alain Sirius.During its first stop in Kato, the team met with the Regional Executive Officer (REO), Rafael Downes; Deputy Regional Executive Officer (DREO), Gavin Gounga; and Regional Democratic Councillor (RDC) Courtney Hardy. The deputy Toshao of Kato was also present. The team also spent time surveying and assessing the Kato airstrip.During discussions, REO Downes highlighted a number of issues of the Kato airstrip, including the lack of lights, potholes, poor maintenance, and no fencing. He suggested the introduction of a regulatory body to ultimately improve the service provided to far-flung communities, noting that there are cancellations with no warning. These cancellations greatly set back the community which heavily relies on planes arriving thrice a week, he said:“What we need here is a regulatory body that would visit air services… if we are going to move forward so taxpayers can benefit, we have to have a regulatory body. This is especially important if we are to develop tourism in the hinterland.”He also called for better communication among the MPI and those officials and residents in hinterland communities.Similarly in Paramakatoi, residents and village councillors expressed concern over the safety of the airstrips. They noted that Paramakatoi airstrip is one that serves the largest village in sub-region one.The residents noted that there are no lights at the airstrip and this shortcoming was both a threat and deterrence to pilots. They added that it was particularly difficult in situations of emergencies, such as transporting the sick out of the community.“These pilots are taking a risk to save someone’s life; the least we can do is let them see where they are going,” one resident stressed.Residents also raised concerns over maintenance of the airstrip as well as its length. According to the deputy Toshao, an extension of the runway is long overdue. He added that while the village was willing to work along with persons from Georgetown, the village council would prefer more control over the airstrip’s management.“Georgetown should not be dictating to us who must do this or who must do that,” he emphasised.Instead the protocols and policies of the airstrip should be shared with the village council to allow for some level of autonomy and improved management.Meanwhile, the residents admitted that they have been lax in some areas of management of the airstrip, especially in regards to the presence of people and animals.While the airstrip had initially been completely fenced, residents over the years cut these fence and placed gates to create ready access on either side of the airstrip. Animals have also been able to enter the airstrip through these openings.Residents explained that while they understood the prohibition of animals and people on the airstrip, the recent drought has made it difficult to access water on one side of Paramakatoi. Therefore they cross the airstrip each day to fetch water from the other side.The village council indicated its intention to address this issue. Sulaman in turn urged residents to adhere to regulations and warned that the presence of obstacles on the airstrip could prove to be a deterrence to pilots coming in to Paramakatoi.“An airstrip is an asset to a community; it serves as the economic livelihood of that community so, if air operators decide that they’re not coming here, you will ultimately suffer,” he emphasised.Furthermore, Sulaman stressed that as part of the new pilot project, the MPI will be focusing primarily on the maintenance and sustainability of aerodromes.In coming weeks the team will be visiting other hinterland airstrips on fact finding missions that will ultimately lead to the establishment of AMS.According to Thompson, who has more than a decade of experience with the Ministry, the current system is complicated, with the use of traditional methods slowing down work.“We want to collect data of the aerodromes we’re visiting and make a note of their deficiencies so, going forward, when we talk about upgrading the aerodromes, we’ll know exactly what needs to be done,” he said.Besides Kato and Paramakatoi, the other airstrips that will be assessed are: Baramita; Port Kaituma; Kamarang; Kaikan; Ekereku Bottom; Eterinbang; Bartica; Fairview; Surama; Karanambo; Annai; Lethem; Aishalton; and Mahdia.