Surinam Airways: overcoming potential threats and challenges

Over the past few months, airline security has become an increasing concern for the industry and its various stakeholders. Whilst most of the incidents appear to be occurring in the Eastern half of the world, carriers based in the West are certainly not being complacent. Shalini Levens met with Surinam Airways, an international South American carrier, to discuss how it is responding to the threats and challenges that the aviation world is facing.

Suriname, a former Dutch colony, is bordered by Guyana to the west, French-Guyana to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and Brazil to the South. It is one of the smallest countries in South America and considered to be, culturally, a Caribbean country.

The development of aviation started around 1929 when Pan American Airways and New York, Rio and Buenos Aires Line (NYRBA) operated the first flights from Miami to Paramaribo, Suriname’s capital. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines flew their first flight, via Cape Verde, to Suriname in 1934, and later decided to launch a direct flight route between Paramaribo and Amsterdam.

The establishment of a Surinamese airline occurred in 1953, and was initially designed to provide transport services between Paramaribo and domestic cities. In 1962, the airline was taken over by the Surinamese government, under the name ‘Surinaamse Luchtvaart Maatschappij’ (Surinamese Aviation Firm), and started its first scheduled international flights to Curaçao, Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago, working in partnership with ALM Antillean Airlines and KLM in 1964.

On 2 November 1975, the airline flew under the Surinamese flag with a fully operating Surinam Airways crew in its bright coloured KLM-leased DC-8/63.

Surinam Airways is based at Johan Adolf Pengel International Airport (also known as Paramaribo – Zanderij International Airport), from where it operates scheduled flights to Amsterdam, Aruba, Belem, Curaçao, Cayenne, Georgetown and Trinidad & Tobago. The airline also operates indirect flights (via Guyana and Aruba) to Miami and Orlando, with direct services planned to these and other US destinations in the near future. Cargo charters are additionally provided to and from Amsterdam, Aruba, and Trinidad & Tobago, Curaçao, Guyana and French Guyana. The airline is a proud member of the Latin American and Caribbean Air Transport Association (ALTA) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

The Surinam Airways fleet currently consists of four aircraft; three Boeing 737-300s and one Airbus A340-300, which will be replaced by a newer Airbus A340-300 in the near future. The airline also provides cargo operations through a ‘wet lease’ on a Boeing B767-300. For the year 2014/2015 the airline has carried 259,682 passengers and a cargo transport of 3,073,898 kilograms (6,776,785 pounds).

Safety Assessment of Suriname and the Region

Under the International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) programme of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Suriname is listed as Category 1, which indicates that the country meets the safety standards and recommended practices of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

Human trafficking is an ever-growing concern in South American countries. The ‘Trafficking in Persons Report’, issued by the US Department of State, highlights the fact that women and children from Guyana, Venezuela, Suriname, Brazil, and the Dominican Republic are subjected to sex trafficking in mining communities in the interior and in urban areas.

According to the report, the government of Suriname does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. However, it is making significant efforts to do so. Officials – primarily police and prosecutors – continue to investigate and prosecute trafficking cases and, in 2014, referred more victims to assistance than in 2013.

When it comes to contraband goods, Suriname is recorded as a transit zone for South American cocaine en route to Europe, Africa and, to a lesser extent, the United States. Reports state that traffickers are able to move drug shipments into and through Suriname by land, water, and air.

Contraband measures at the airport are taken by the Opposing International Drug Trafficking team composed of approximately 32 national police officials. The team focuses almost exclusively on searching passengers and cargo on flights bound for The Netherlands, where it is believed the majority of narcotics trafficked from Suriname is destined.

The latest threat to aviation security in the South American region was issued in February last year, when the US Embassy warned that it had received unconfirmed threat information about a Caribbean flight from Guyana to the United States. In 2007, a former member of Guyana’s parliament and a naturalised U.S. citizen from Guyana were both sentenced for their roles in a failed plot by a small group of militant Muslims to firebomb John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

The terrorism rating in Suriname has been categorised as low by the Overseas Security Advisory Council and the national carrier has not had any accidents and incidents for the last 26 years.

The CEO of Surinam Airways, Ewald Henshuys, and the airline’s Quality Assurance Manager, Cecil Valies, provide some insight into the mindset of the airline in terms of both the security challenges faced and the economic factors impacting upon their operation.

“The aviation business is a vulnerable business. We had times where the fuel prices were around $150 per barrel. Some of the larger airline companies did not survive the past five years, but we did!” said Henshuys. “I am satisfied that we managed to introduce a number of new routes, such as French Guyana and Guyana, between 2012 and 2013. Additionally, I am pleased to announce that, after a test period of 13 flights, we will be adding Orlando to our destination portfolio.”