Flights suspended from downtown Heliport

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Helicopter trips for tourists from central George Town have been suspended after a judge ruled the site “may not be considered to be safe” in its current form.  

Chief Justice Anthony Smellie pointed to flaws in the decision of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Cayman Islands to grant an aerodrome certificate to Cayman Islands Helicopters for its waterfront heliport. Judge Smellie has advised the authority to reconsider its decision in light of his ruling. 

The aviation authority announced late last week that it had provisionally suspended the certificate and would be conducting a review. 

Jerome Begot, the pilot and owner of the business, insisted the site was safe and vowed to “fight to the end” to resume flying from 
the waterfront, 

The tour operator has an alternative site at Owen Roberts International Airport and continues to fly from that location. The George Town base opened in 2011 in an effort to attract more tourists from the cruise ships 
in the capital. 

In his judgment, released publicly last week, Justice Smellie said the authority had been unduly influenced by a desire to accommodate the “commercial objectives” of the tour operator. He said the authority had failed to ensure compliance with the Overseas Territories Aviation Requirements or to demonstrate that it has ensured an equivalent level of safety to justify deviating from those guidelines.  

Issues outlined in the judgment include the fact that the final approach and take-off area is not properly marked, part of the safety area is over the sea and no limitations are imposed for operating with tailwinds in excess of 17 knots. The judgment also points to the fact that there is an electricity pole within the flight path for take-offs and landings. 

The judgment concludes: “The heliport may not be considered to be safe for the purposes of the ongoing operation of a helicopter in the manner that it is being operated.” 

The ruling follows an application for judicial review from Axis International Ltd, which owns an office building close to the site, and has complained of noise nuisance and safety concerns. The judge upheld some of those concerns, but stopped short of quashing the certification, recommending that the aviation authority was the right body to take action. 

“The CAACI has an ongoing ability to monitor and reassess the heliport and decide whether or not to vary, suspend or revoke certification. 

“Rather than quashing the certificate, the court should allow the CAACI to exercise this function now in the light of the clarifications of its responsibility and the issues for its assessment provided in this judgment.” 

Mr. Begot said he had already suspended flights from the George Town location and wanted to show “good conscience” while the issues surrounding the Heliport were resolved. He maintained that the site was safe and believes that with some revisions, flights will ultimately be able to resume from George Town. 

“I am going to be here and I am going to fight to the end because I didn’t do anything wrong. I have just been doing my job properly and safely. I have been flying here for two-and-a-half years and there has never been any problems,” he said. Mr. Begot referred us to his lawyer, George Giglioli, for further comment. Mr Giglioli did not respond to phone calls on Friday. 

Whether or not Mr. Begot can ultimately resume flights from the location will be for the Civil Aviation Authority to decide. The judge’s decision does not rule out the possibility that the site could be altered to comply with regulations, or ensure equivalent levels of safety, though Axis International has cast doubt on whether this could ever be possible.  

The Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement on Friday that it was disappointed with the judge’s ruling, but accepted its decisions were open to challenge in the courts.  

The statement said: “He (Chief Justice Smellie) ruled that the CAACI did not properly satisfy itself that all the regulatory requirements for certification were complied with and ordered that the Authority reassess the Heliport to decide whether or not the certification should stand.” 

Susan Olde, a director at Axis International, said the judgment showed the site was inappropriate for helicopter flights and called on the authority to revoke the certification permanently. 

“With all the expert evidence that was presented in court, the only appropriate course of action is for the CAACI to revoke the licence immediately. It is clear from the chief justice’s ruling that the location could never have complied with the international regulations according to the experts and as such could never be made safe for helicopter operations – particularly single engine helicopters like the one used by Cayman Islands Helicopters.”  

The Air Navigation Overseas Territories Order requires the aviation authority to consider a set of regulations known as the Overseas Territories Aviation Requirements in combination with the helicopter company’s operating manual to make its decision. 

Where a Heliport is unable to meet those standards an aeronautical study must be produced identifying alternative means to justify an equivalent level of safety. 

Axis’ lawyers argued that the authority had unreasonably relegated the safety standards of the OTARs in its consideration of Cayman Islands’ Helicopters requests for exemptions outlined in its aeronautical study.  

The judge agreed that the decision to certify the Heliport was not in accordance with the regulations and an equivalent level of safety had not been guaranteed in several areas.  

The judgment pointed out that there had been a ‘gradual erosion of safety standards’ in reference to the regulatory requirement for a 180-degree angle of separation for the take-off and landing path to the point where the authority agreed to a 90-degree angle.  

The judge said the 90-degree angle was not, of itself, necessarily unsafe, but he pointed to a number of other factors, including the position of an electricity pole within the approach path as a problem. 

The judgment outlined how Mr. Begot had approached the aviation authority prior to renting the George Town site and received some level of assurance that it was appropriate for a Heliport. There is no suggestion that there is anything unethical about this, though the judge points out that it may ultimately have influenced the authority’s decision. 

The judge wrote: “It is apparent from the evidence that the CAACI allowed itself to become unduly influenced in the process of certification by its willingness to accommodate the commercial objectives of CIHL. Indeed it may have felt embarrassed and obliged to do so, on account of its own early and premature expression of satisfaction as to the suitability of the Heliport site.” 

Ms Olde, of Axis, said she was happy with the decision. 

“I am very grateful as a Caymanian citizen to have had the opportunity through the Judicial review process of these islands to help right a public wrong. My motivation throughout the last two years of this somewhat solitary battle for justice has been the same as my motivation in 2005 when I supported the rebuild of 200 or so homes.” 

Helipad

Jerome and Nathalie Begot are seen in November 2011 during the opening of the Cayman Islands Helicopters’ landing pad in George Town. – Photo: Joanna Lewis
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9 COMMENTS

  1. In fact and truth there should be not sight seeing tours carried out by private helicopters in our down town area. How does any of us know what these people are looking at. Pictures being taken, and for what reason. Be careful Cayman, stop opening doors to what you know nothing about.

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  2. That helicopter is an accident waiting to happen. With it being so vulnerable to sea spray causing corrosion, who is regulating the helicopters maintenance?

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  3. agree and support Mrs Olde’s quest. Finally someone has stepped up to take a stand for our public safety. I don’t even like driving downtown when that helicopter is operating. IT IS IN A DANGEROUS PLACE. especially since they have a spot at the air port where……flying has already been approved and in a safety zone. I was shocked when I actually saw the facility and the closeness to other buildings and the fact the streets are lined with people when the ships are in……LOOK at the hazardous possibilities that one small mishap could cause. OH said the government, we need to increase our commercial businesses downtown on the waterfront….just think of the adverse publicity the islands would receive if there WAS an accident…… it would be much safer to have the office at that site and transport to the airport then fly. If this ONE is permitted then what is the answer when other operators want to be in such a dangerous place. Thank You Mrs. Olde for stepping up – I have no interest in the heliport but I do have an interest in feeling safe when driving or shopping downtown. I have an interest in positive publicity for this island as well. The more positive we are in the world wide media…the more attractive we are to vacationers……remember……pretty is as pretty does.

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  4. It just shows that even when you do everything required of you, money always wins in Cayman. Such a shame, I sure hope he can sue The Government Departments that approved this location to recoup some of his money.

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  5. Good luck to Jerome Natalie. They offer a safe and highly memorable island experience, one that I’ll always treasure. Since tourism is the lifeblood of the Cayman Islands, I’m surprised by this unfortunate turn of events.

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  6. Just a little upset that Snapouttaitpeople is more concerned with how an accident would be viewed and it’s negative effects if it were to happen in GT than anything else.. So would it be ok for an accident to happen at the airport? I think Jerome Nathalie do a fabulous job for Cayman and always show Cayman @ it’s best (carefully avoiding the dump) I wish them the best of luck in the future. The thing that dissappoints is always that there seems to be no due dilligence done in the first place.. If it was to be deemed unsafe try and do the research and analysis before allowing people to invest time money only to have the same people come back and say they must tear it down.. Cayman seems to be constantly battling to reverse decisions made earlier.. The dump, the bypass, canal extensions, removal of mangroves.. Look before you leap! ;o)

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