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The potential of the local aviation industry needs to be boosted, contends Harry Dass, chairman and chief executive officer of the Couva-based Briko Air Services Ltd, as he announced plans by Briko to attract international students to its commercial pilot’s training school. Dass and his brother Rooplal K Dass, the company’s managing director and chief pilot, were at the time speaking with the Business Guardian at Briko’s Camden operations.Dass said Briko has been running its pilot school since 1983 providing training for private pilots and started offering commercial flight training for fixed-wing aircraft one year ago. He said a syllabus for commercial helicopter pilots training has already been submitted and could be operational within six to eight months, once all of the T&T Civil Aviation Authority (TTCAA) requirements are met.What does this mean for T&T? According to Dass, Briko’s flight school has the potential to attract a cadre of international students who otherwise have to travel to the United States to train. He said some of these students are unable to get visas to enter the United States and would have to cough up a lot moremoney to pay for training in the US. Dass said a lot of spin-off jobs could be generated by individuals catering to the needs of the foreign students. Dass said there are currently 80 students training for their private pilot’s licence and ten studying for the instrumentation leg of their commercial licence. He said Briko has 14 aircraft and its capacity can be increased once there is a demand for students. Dass said the training meets all international standards. He said the economic slide has not impacted too badly on Briko’s flight school but is hopeful since the company has applied for Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses (GATE) funding for part of the cost for local students.He said the GATE process is almost complete but believes that GATE would pay a percentage of the cost of the commercial pilots licence.Dass said with the introduction of its helicopter flight training school—including its other aviation operations—Camden airstrip is fully utilised. In its heyday, the 5,000-foot long airstrip was used as a military airstrip during World War II and was later used by Caroni (1975) Ltd as a base for Caroni’s aerial spraying operation. Since the late 1980s, Briko has been using the facility conducting several operations flight training, helicopter offshore and charters services, banner towing and surveys.
The facilities is also used by National Helicopter Services Ltd on a daily basis for its pilots training and for emergencies.“It should be noted that the airstrip is the alternate for Piarco in events of emergencies for general aviation and light aircraft. In this regard, it has served its purpose for Briko, National Helicopter, Bristow and Evergreen in the past.”Dass said the Camden strip is a fully asphalt paved airstrip 5,000 feet in length and 150 feet wide, same as Piarco, and can be operational within three months with minor upgrade once it is the will of the Government to do so. Briko’s proposal is to start the airbridge service doing a minimum of 14 sectors with one of its two Jetstreams 19-passenger aircraft from Camden to Tobago to Camden daily to cope with the capacity of travellers between T&T who live in south and central Trinidad. He said a large aircraft operating from Camden would not be economical for the government and suggested the use of smaller aircraft at the Jetstream 3200 that can carry 19 passengers. According to Dass, the area also has the potential to expand into a major aviation services and maintenance industry.He said his company has operated its Jetstreams out of neighbouring islands on a daily basis on two six-month contracts between Tortola, St Maarten, Statia, Dominica, St Kitts, St Lucia and T&T.