Civil Aviation Celebrated
2011 will go down as a fairly un-eventful year for Civil Aviation in Belize. Except for a minor accident in April of this year involving a Tropic Air single engine plane that slid off the municipal airstrip due to brake failure, and the recent suspected drug plane crash that killed two just behind the Belize Zoo, there has not been any major incident that has involved fatalities on commercial aircraft, whether domestic or international.
And so today, as the country celebrated International Civil Aviation Day with an exhibit at the grounds of ITVET, officials with the department of Civil Aviation took the opportunity to talk about the strides made in bringing the country's status up to par with World Aviation requirements, and what that meant for air travel safety across Belizean skies:
Jim McFadzean Reporting
Shaun Young - Ops. Officer, Department of Aviation
"It's very safe, if we can say so from the Belize Department of Civil Aviation. What we do everyday is regulate the practices and procedures that are carried out by the operators and companies that fly local Belizean, and international airlines. And as far as the safety record for our country goes, we have experienced some accidents and incidents in the pasts, but the numbers of accidents and incidents is now reduced drastically."
Over the last decade or so, the country's department of Aviation has stepped up safety inspections, increased training for air traffic controllers, and has acquired some of the latest aviation technology.
"The participation of the Belize Departments of Civil Aviation and the inspectors, by us doing our jobs, going out their regulating movement in the air, sequential landing of aircrafts and others. And so as long as those aspects are safe, we also carry out inspections such as ramp inspections, ground inspections, spot inspections etc on not only the on the pilots themselves, but also on the aircraft. So, we feel that because of this intervention, we have made the industry a lot safer."
"What has been the most significant achievement for Civil Aviation, domestically?"
"One of them has to be definitely the training of aviation medical examiners, and we tried to have them out here today, but as we know, in our industry which is so small, that we cannot take a doctor from his medical practice and bring him to work with the department. What we had to do was ask them to be a part of the department on a part-time basis, and what that did is that they trained in essence to carry out the medical examinations that are needed by pilots and air traffic controllers, instead of those people having to go abroad to the United States to renew their licenses through medical certifications. The second one would definitely have to be the licensing of air traffic controllers here in Belize, and we issued them with their license that put them on par with the nations around us, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica. The air traffic controllers there have licenses, and the same thing with Belize, we currently have all our air traffic controllers licensed up to certification medically."
That type of improvement in licensing applies to pilots such as Tropic Air's Pilot and Safety Manager Raul Alamilla, who was on hand at today's expo speaking with hundreds of students inquiring about a career in aviation.
"Tell us how long you've been a pilot, and what sparked your interest in that field."
Raul Alamila - Pilot and Safety Manager, Tropic Air
"I've been a pilot for going on 6 years now, it looked like fun really. And it is a lot of fun to be a pilot. It's a very serious job, but -"
"There were a lot of students here, what were some of the questions you were getting? Were they inquiring about how they can get into civil aviation, especially piloting?"
"Yes, many of the students were asking about what they could do to become pilots. Some of them wanted to be engineers. The purpose of this whole civil aviation day was to show the students that you not only have to be a pilot in aviation field, you can be a mechanic, engineer, dispatcher, ramp agent, a cargo agent like Ms. Jenny."
Miss Jenny Woods, Tropic Air's Country Manager is who Alamilla is referring to. She is the airline's Country Manager for cargo, one aspect of the industry that's seen significant growth over the years.
Jenny Woods - Country Manager for Cargo,Tropic Air
"Just as cargo is picking up internationally, faith is a big deal now overseas, and it has become that case now in Belize. We have increased our business over the past 10 years. I've seen a huge growth, with things like envelopes - and even the students mentioned today that their parents send their envelopes to their relatives in San Pedro, Dangriga etc., so it is a big business, and we are happy to be a part of this growth. Last year July, we had processed our - we have a totally computerized cargo system. We had processed a million airway bills. That's just to give you an idea of what kind of business cargo is domestically now for Belize."
One of the day's popular booths was that of United Airlines, now the largest international airline serving Belize, where much of the focus was on behind the scene operations that's not always visible to the public.
Jenelle Vellos - Sales Agent, United Airlines
"We were offering insight into what happens basically after the check-in process on the ramp. Most people go to the airport, and they see what happens in the front line, but behind that, they don't know what's happening, security, the bags, belt loaders etc. So we were definitely showing them what happens behind scenes."
"I noticed that not all airlines were participating today. Is this important for civil aviation industry, and if you don't participate, are you losing out?"
Godfrey Eck - General Manager, United Airlines
"Well, I wouldn't say you're losing out, but I think that it's very important that we all pull together as one, as Jenelle stated, that we just want to emphasize the importance of our operation on the ramp side. And safety is of the utmost priority for our company, and I think for all the companies on a whole, the airlines that are serving Belize."
The theme for this year's Civil Aviation Day is: "Assistance and Cooperation for Globally Sustainable Air Transport".