Local airline operators ask CCJ to quash renaming of Ogle Int’l Airport

About seven local airline operators have moved to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ),challenging the renaming of the Ogle International Airport.  When the airport  was officially renamed the Eugene F. Correia International Airport on May 09, 2016, seven of the domestic airline services in Guyana and an association formed by them sought judicial review of then Minister of Public Infrastructure David Patterson’s approval of that name change.

The orders they sought were refused by the High Court and the appeal against that decision dismissed by the Guyana Court of Appeal. The CCJ has granted them special leave to appeal only on the grounds addressing whether the then Minister had a duty to consult with them before approving the name change. The CCJ virtually entertained full arguments in the case this morning. Among the airline operators challenging the name change are Air Services Limited, Roraima Airways, Wings Aviation and Hopkinson Mining.

They are being represented by Attorneys-at-law Devindra Kissoon and Natasha Vieira from local law firm London House Chambers. Solicitor General Nigel Hawke appeared for and on behalf of the Attorney General, a named respondent in the proceedings.

During his opening submissions, Kissoon told the panel of five judges that Ogle Airport Inc.’s (OAI) duty was to develop and maintain the airport, of course, under scrutiny by the Government of the day. According to Kissoon, the Civil Aviation Act, gives the Minister of Public Infrastructure, in this case, David Patterson, oversight over all aerodromes, and states that the airport is a public agency, though leased to a private operator.

He submitted that the airline services depend on the fair management of the airport which is majority owned and controlled by the Correia Group, for their livelihoods and that of their staffers. He said that the Correia Group competes with these airline services, which have complained of the Group, among other things having a monopoly over fuel and leasing lands to persons within the Group, for domestic airspace.

Before the name change, he added that by way of several letters, the airline services complained to the Government of the day, specifically former Minister Patterson about the issues they were having with the Correia Group, including the effects the name change could have on their operations. The lawyer further informed that in a letter dated December 2015, then President David Granger wrote to former Minister Patterson expressing hope that the matter would have been resolved by that time.

Kissoon contends that the name change of the airport was unfair and irrational because proper consultations were not had with his clients. He argues that the name change gives the Correia Group “more of a competition advantage that already exists.”

“Fairness would have dictated that the Government and Minister consult with the persons who would have been affected by the name change. All domestic airline operators who have complained about something that could have potentially affected them, at the very least, he [Patterson] should have heard them,” Kissoon noted in his arguments.

He told the panel of judges that there was a legitimate expectation on the part of his clients that they would have been consulted, and their issues ventilated before the name change was effected.

For his part, Hawke contended, “There were proper consultations in all the circumstances. The decision of the Court of Appeal was proper.”

On the face of the evidence, the Solicitor noted that it can be concluded that Patterson acted on a letter from OAI Board of Directors that the name change was a unanimous decision taken by the said Board having found that it was proper to rename the airport.

“The appellants [airline operators] on the face of the evidence seem to be prosecuting their private grievances…transporting that issue as one of a public law transgression,” Hawke added.

This very issue was raised by the CCJ. In fact, CCJ Judge Andrew Burgess said that in the records of appeal, the Guyana Court of Appeal made a “fundamental observation” in relation to the point raised by the Solicitor General.

Reading from the Guyana Court of Appeal ruling, Justice Burgess said: “It is the view of this court that the appellants appear to have grievance with the Correia Group and have attempted to use public law procedures to address private grievances.”

If this is found to be true, Justice Burgess held that it would bring an end to this matter. In response, Kissoon denied his clients having grievances with the Correia Group and noted that since it was the Minister who approved the name change, then the correct procedure for remedy would be to invoke public law procedures.

Asked by CCJ Judge Winston Anderson if there was any remedy to provide what the airline operators are seeking without quashing the renaming of the airport, the Solicitor General said,”This is a very difficult question.”

He added, “I’m not trying to be facetious. There is a new Government in place, Patterson is no longer the Minister. The new minister of Public works might have a different view. That is the best answer I can gave you.”

CCJ Judge Jacob Wit questioned whether proper and fair consultations were had between the parties. Given the contentions raised by Kissoon, Justice Wit referred to a Stabroek News article in which it was reported that Patterson acknowledged receipt of the airline operators complaints  and assured that they will not “fall on deaf ears”, and will be considered before a decision was made in the renaming of the airport.

“[Patterson] abandoned the consultation process without completing it, “Kissoon argued, in a bid to have the CCJ quash the Minister’s approval of the renaming of the airport. The lawyer also wants the Court to order that consultations be held with his clients before any further steps are taken with regards to renaming the airport.

Following two hours of arguments,  the CCJ announced that it would be reserving its judgment in this case.