Guyanese aviation investigators were so concerned last spring about the operations of charter service Easy Sky that they took the unprecedented step of demanding the flight data recorder be taken from one of its planes and rushed it to an FAA facility in Miami for evaluation. The news that came back was very bad.
At the time, Easy Sky was performing charters, bringing hundreds of Cuban suitcase traders, or higglers, to Guyana to gobble up electronics, clothing and other items for resale in various provinces in Cuba. Guyana is a favored destination for Cuban traders as it does not require visas to enter the country.
Easy Sky had had up to four flights per week before Civil Aviation Authority Director Capt. Egbert Field pulled the plug on the airline because of clear safety violations.
Field’s comments came in the wake of last Friday’s deadly crash of a B-737-200 aircraft in Havana, Cuba that killed more than 100 people and left several critically injured.
The data recorder that Field had ordered the carrier to hand over to Guyanese aviation authorities came from the very same crashed plane with tail number XA-UHZ. That aircraft had made frequent runs on the Guyana-Cuba route.
He told this publication on Monday that aviators became concerned after some of its departing Boeing 737 flights barely lifted off the runway at the main Cheddi Jagan International Airport in Guyana, obviously overloaded with heavy loads of goods from Guyana. Larger planes like Fly Jamaica’s B-767 aircraft take off just past the terminal building even while filled with passengers and cargo.
Easy Sky was eventually banned from operating into Guyana, leaving hundreds of Cubans stranded at the airport.
Field said that data from the recorders had showed that engines were underperforming and that the airline was clearly breaching several standard safety rules and regulations.
“In one instance last year, one of my inspectors had ordered the ground handlers to take off a full cartload of cargo from one flights because it was clearly overloaded. In another, we looked at the CCTV cameras from the tower building and saw that the planes had used up all the runaway and barely made it, barely took off. I decided this was a very unsafe operation and pulled the plug. We made the right decision in the interest of safety. Safety waits on no one,” he said.
In another instance, the agency demanded and got the flight data recorder from one of its planes and sent an inspector to Miami, Fla. where FAA experts analyzed the data, produced a spreadsheet with the information and sent it back to Guyana.
“Once we looked at the data on the spreadsheet, it was clear that the engines were under performing and that there were issues of overloading of planes. They did not keep proper log sheets and technical records and we had complained to the company which had oversight in Honduras but we decided to act before they had even got back to us properly. The operation was unsafe and I acted in the interest of safety.”
He said one flight which was struggling to take off kicked up a fair amount of sand at the very end of the runway, resulting in members of the public and people looking on generally reporting what they had seen to his agency, fearing that the plane would not have made it “because of excess cargo.”
“This is the first time that we had had to demand the data recorder from any operator flying into Guyana. It was that bad. I compliment my inspectors for the job they had done monitoring that service,” he said.
While conducting inboard audits, inspectors had also found that bags were stashed between passenger seats. In other cases, passengers placed large plastic wrapped bags on the ground and placed their feet on them in quite an unsafe way.
“We made the right decision with this one, despite the fact that some in the industry had complained about passengers being stranded and about how the ban on the airline would affect the economy. That is not our concern. We deal with safety.”