Local airlines refuse to land on Corozal Airstrip

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 11, No. 34            August 30, 2001

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A bulletin earlier this week announced that Maya Island Air and Tropic Air had ceased flights to Corozal as of Saturday, August 25, 2001. This decision was based on the fact that the airstrip had "deteriorated to a state that safe operations can no longer take place." In an interview with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) on Tuesday, they announced repairs were underway and operations could resume on Wednesday.

    The deterioration of several district runways in Belize have been a point of contention between local airlines and the CAA for some months. Reports have been made and promises given to remedy the situation but it would appear the recent flight cancellations hastened the process to some extent.

    The San Pedro Sun contacted the CAA and was informed that Director Efrain Gomez was out of the country. Deputy Director Russell Manzanero willingly provided information that the CAA had been informed over the weekend of the local airlines' decision and that the airstrip was closed on Monday to facilitate "urgent" repairs. He also provided the above mentioned facts, although, when questioned regarding CAA's policy for scheduled maintenance and safety standards, the San Pedro Sun was given the standard line "I am not authorized to give out that information."

    Speaking to Tropic Air's Johnny Greif III, he stated this is only the beginning. In order of severity, Punta Gorda, Dangriga and Caye Caulker may be the next runways avoided because of safety hazards. Rains from Tropical Storm Chantal made worse an already horrible amount of potholes and washouts. Noting that we are heading into the season for increased amounts of rainfall, without proper maintenance, the future looks dim for flying to other destinations unless something is done soon.

    Mr. Greif added that the airlines only want the CAA to do their job. He stated, "They expect airlines to abide by strict standards and airlines expect the same safety assurances from the CAA." Reportedly, a number of incidents have occurred due to the condition of runways, but fortunately no injuries or fatalities have occurred. Attempts made to contact Maya Island Air for comment were unsuccessful.

    Local airlines' complaints are usually met with "we're getting the money," from the CAA. Obviously, there needs to be a mechanism in place for funding this much needed safety maintenance before something happens that cannot be repaired, such as the death of a passenger because of unsafe runways. Maintenance always seems to be pushed aside until the financing can be arranged or, apparently, until airlines quit landing.

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