I grew up in a thatch-roofed hut in Balmain Village, on the Montserrat Sugar Estate, next to the World War II Camden Airstrip, and was fascinated as a child by planes taking off and landing.
My dream was to become a pilot, but due to abject poverty that dream eluded me.
However, on December 1, 1969, after a very intense recruitment process, I began my aviation career with seven other young men who were awarded apprentice scholarships by BWIA – the then national airline. The programme’s goal was to train the apprentices to become licensed aircraft maintenance engineers to do heavy maintenance on jet aircraft.
At that time, BWIA was re-fleeting from the Vickers Viscount turboprop aircraft to the Boeing 707 and 727 jet aircraft, and the heavy maintenance was done overseas.
To gain exposure to heavy maintenance, four apprentices including myself, were selected for a fast-track programme and received specialised overseas training at selected large airlines.
I held several managerial positions at BWIA, the last being director of air safety, where I co-ordinated the acquisition of new aircraft types, including the Mc Donald Douglas MD83, Airbus A321, Boeing 737-800 and the Bombardier Dash 8-300 aircraft.
My tenure at BWIA was my greatest and most cherished learning experience, and prepared me for the next phase of my aviation career.
In August 2000, Parliament enacted the TT Civil Aviation Authority (TTCAA) Act to regulate all civil-aviation operations in TT. I was interviewed, along with other applicant,s for the position of director general of civil aviation (DGCA), and CEO, created by Section 13 of the act.
After a successful interview, I was appointed the first DGCA, with effect from March 1 2001, a position I held until my retirement in March 2017.
The board mandated me to establish the TT State Aviation Safety Oversight System to attain FAA category-1 status and to modernise the TTCAA aviation infrastructure. This required working closely with the ICAO, FAA, TSA and other international aviation bodies.
In 2001, I assisted in drafting the Civil Aviation Act 2001, which became TT’s primary aviation law, enabling the making of ICAO-compliant civil-aviation regulations. Personnel were recruited from BWIA with skills in airworthiness, flight operations, aviation security, cabin safety and dangerous goods to complement the air navigation, aerodromes, aircraft registration and personnel-licensing skillsets of the Civil Aviation Division.
After a successful comprehensive FAA audit, the FAA announced in August 2005 that TT had been upgraded to category 1 status.
In 2005, the TTCAA incorporated a special-purpose company – Caribbean Air Navigation and Services (CANAS) – and disengaged Intercaribbean Aeronautical Communications Ltd (IACL), a private company which collected user charges from airlines that operated through the Piarco FIR, in which the TTCAA provided the air-navigation services. CANAS began collecting the user charges, which were used to fund all capital projects.
In 2007, work started on the ultra-modern civil aviation complex, including an administrative headquarters, a training centre, a control tower and an area control centre equipped with a state-of-the-art radar and air-traffic management systems. Construction was completed in 2010, placing all TTCAA employees under one roof.
All navaids were replaced with modern equipment and a full instrument landing system was installed at ANR Robinson Airport.
I invested heavily in building organisational capacity at the TTCAA through a continuous human-resource development programme and, coupled with the infrastructural upgrades, transformed the TTCAA into a world-class centre of aviation excellence.
Other major achievements under my tenure as DGCA were GATE approval for the TTCAA air traffic control course, another successful comprehensive FAA audit in 2012, the implementation of a job-evaluation exercise in 2012 that gave all TTCAA employees significant salary increases, full ICAO Trainair membership, and training and employing Tobago residents as air traffic controllers.
My notable memories include meeting US President Obama before his departure from TT after the Summit of the Americas from April 17-19, 2009. However, most notable was meeting and chatting with former astronaut Edwin Eugene “Buzz” Aldrin in December 2012 at the Wright Brothers Memorial Dinner in Washington, DC. On July 21, 1969 Aldrin became the second man to walk on the moon.
I was subordinate to several chairmen and ministers of Works and Transport Colm Imbert and Jack Warner, who gave me unwavering support.
I served on the boards of IACL,TTCAA, Canas, the Air Transport Licensing Authority, the Airports Authority of TT and the Standing Negotiating Committee on air service agreements.
I also served for four years as the chairman of the Caribbean Aviation Safety and Security Oversight System (CASSOS), the aviation organ of Caricom, and as vice chairman for another four years. In January 2010, while attending a CASSOS board meeting in Haiti, I survived the devastating earthquake in which approximately 360,000 people perished.
During my tenure, all annual reports, financial statements and estimates of expenditure were submitted within the statutory period prescribed by the act. The TTCAA never borrowed any monies and all projects were cash-funded. When I demitted office, the TTCAA had approximately $563 million in the bank.
Fate ultimately made me the DGCA, under whose hand all pilots’ licences were issued.
In 2016, with the approval of the Prime Minister, I was awarded the Chaconia Gold Medal for long and meritorious service in the sphere of public service.
This content was originally published here.