THE EARLY YEARS OF AVIATION
The first airplane flight took place in Guyana in March 1913, when George Schmidt, a German, flew a mono-plane over Georgetown, taking off from the Bel Air Park race course. However, the development of air transport in Guyana owes much to Arthur James Williams, a pilot and mechanic from the United States. He arrived in Guyana in 1924, and using an amphibian airplane (generally referred to as a flying boat) he started an air service transporting people and goods to the country's interior from Georgetown. Williams' plane took off from the Rowing Club on the Demerara River just south of the Stabroek Market.
Some other American plane owners established Georgetown as their base, and Guyanese gold miners hired them to transport them and their supplies to interior locations. These pilots and their small planes were thus instrumental in helping to open up the interior of Guyana. One of these pilots was James Angel who in 1935, on a chartered flight from Georgetown for a Venezuelan gold miner, "discovered" the Venezuelan waterfall named for him.
By the late 1920s amphibian planes were flying passengers between Trinidad and Guyana. In September 1929, the first airmail service to Guyana began. And the country gained attention when the famous American pilot, Colonel Charles Lindbergh, landed in the Demerara River with his flying boat on the 22 September 1929.
Arthur Williams developed his air service throughout the 1930s, and in May 1938 he and his partner, John Henry Hunterm, established the British Guiana Airways Ltd. During the period of World War II, he left to serve in the United States Air Force, but immediately returned to Guyana as soon as the war ended.
The first regular flights to the interior by the newly established British Guiana Airways Ltd. started in 1939. Amphibian aircraft were mainly used since they were able to land both on airstrips and on the interior rivers. In 1944, regular flights carrying passengers, mail and freight serviced the Mazaruni and Rupununi districts. The following year, the company acquired a Grumman amphibian aircraft which was used for a shuttle service from an airstrip in Ruimveldt to Mackenzie aerodrome and for charter flights to the Eastern Caribbean.
The increasing demand for flights encouraged the company in 1946 to obtain another Grumman and two Douglas Dakota DC3 aircraft which were based at the newly constructed Atkinson Field airport. Regular shipments of beef from the Rupununi to Georgetown by air began in July 1948.
The Atkinson Field airport was named after Major Atkinson, the commander of the air-base facilities which the American government built in 1942 during World War II. Atkinson Airport occupied 68 acres of Hyde Park on the Demerara River, 26 miles south of Georgetown. It was part of an area leased to the United States of America by the United Kingdom in 1941 for a period of 99 years. (The lease was terminated on 26 May 1966, Guyana's Independence Day. Because the lease was terminated 74 years before its due end, a new agreement was arrived at giving certain specified rights to the Americans in relation to the air base for the next 17 years.)
In 1950 the airport facilities were restructured for civil aviation purposes. Another more up-to-date terminal building was built and opened on 15 March 1952. When the new building was destroyed by fire in 1959 the old terminal building was renovated and used again until the destroyed building was replaced. After independence, Atkinson Airport became the Timehri International Airport.
In July 1955, the Government bought the British Guiana Airways Ltd. from Williams who shortly after returned to the USA. The company was renamed the British Guiana Airways (Government). Its assets which included a fleet of three Dakota DC3, three Grumman and one Cessna aircraft were in 1963 acquired a new company, the Guyana Airways Corporation (GAC).