Flights resume in Guyana after runway lights fiasco

assengers arriving at Cheddi Jagan International Airport in Guyana.
Photo by Tangerine Clarke

International night flights resumed at the main Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) on Monday following repairs to the runway lights that authorities say were knocked out by a severe thunderstorm on Sunday.

Flights into the aerodrome were diverted to a string of Caribbean islands including Puerto Rico after the lights had failed to come on just before sundown on Sunday.

Those affected by the fiasco had included three American Airlines flights from Miami and New York, one from JetBlue non-stop to Guyana from New York, one from COPA Airlines out of Panama and yet another from Sky High Air from the Dominican Republic. Traffic controllers were forced to divert Sky High to neighboring Suriname largely because, like the others incoming to Guyana, they had received late notice of the runway lights problem and were already well airborne when informed. Hundreds of passengers were affected.

Authorities blamed a severe lighting, thunder and rain storm on Sunday for the mishap, saying that the lightning strikes had crippled both the main and backup runway lighting systems, effectively shuttering the airport to night time flights. Many of those affected were able to land long delayed flights during the day on Monday using visual flight rules, but management said the system had been back up and running allowing for a resumption of late night flights on Monday.

“CJIA will now undertake a thorough evaluation of the current lightning protection system to enhance resilience against future lightning strikes. The airport extends its gratitude to its stakeholders and the traveling public for their support during the recent disruptions,” management said in a statement on Tuesday. The airport maintenance crew, with assistance from Guyana Power and Light company personnel, has been diligently replacing damaged runway cables and transformers. Some airlines are poised to resume night operations promptly,” the statement said.

This is not the first time that runway lighting problems had virtually crippled night flights into the Caribbean Community nation. Decades ago, copper thieves had stolen about 4000 feet of cabling on the runway, closing off night flights for several days until authorities had discovered that culprits had actually stolen a large chunk of copper wire. Soldiers from a nearby military base were suspected of being part of the gang that had carted away the copper for sale to local exporters.

Meanwhile, commuter flights operated by Trinidad-based Caribbean Airlines and other carriers operated normally in and out of the Ogle municipal airport just east of Georgetown. That facility mainly services the domestic interior and nearby nations including Suriname, Barbados and Trinidad.