As LIAT shareholders and directors gathered for their meeting in Barbados, recently, amid the regional airline’s financial and operational dilemma, Chief Executive Officer, Julie Reifer-Jones, gave the assurance [that] “LIAT is committed to connecting the region, flying to the 15 destinations across the network. There are ongoing discussions with governments on the need for all the territories served by LIAT to contribute through a minimum revenue guarantee model,” she said. “LIAT remains optimistic that the discussions would be concluded shortly, while the regional airline continues to update its restructuring plan so that LIAT can evolve into a more efficient and sustainable company serving the region.”
Ahead of the Barbados meeting, St. Kitts and Nevis announced that it would provide one million dollars in emergency funding, in response to LIAT’s previous request from regional governments, totaling US$5.4 million. At the time, St. Kitts and Nevis contribution stood at US$389,691. “The government of St. Kitts and Nevis agrees in principle with the idea of participating in an MRG arrangement on the basis of further discussions and negotiations with high-level representatives of LIAT,” the statement added.
In accordance to dealing with LIAT’s current financial problems, Prime Minister of Dominica, Roosevelt Skerrit, gave his assurance that “LIAT is too important for us as a region not to recognize the need for each of us, in whatever small way we can, to make a contribution to the sustainability and sustenance of LIAT. We do not have a largesse of funds, but the little that we have, or the little that we do not have, we will certainly make a contribution to LIAT sustainability and sustenance,” Skerrit said.
Dominica is being asked to contribute US$347,938 towards 25 flights weekly. “Yes, we will criticize, yes we have issues with LIAT, but let us not set aside the greater good of this company and its services to our region,” Skerrit further stated. “I also believe we need to look critically at LIAT’s operations and its management and determine what and where we can cut in terms of expenditure,” adding “so we need to look at things from a holistic point and make sure everybody needs to play their part in order for LIAT to be sustainable.”
Thus far, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St. Kitts and Nevis, Grenada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, external financiers, and other partners have given their assurances to LIAT, while the Prime Minister of Saint Lucia continues to reiterate that his administration will not support the financially strapped LIAT if it continues to be business as usual. “There are other airlines and if, in fact, LIAT were to shut its doors, others would be willing to step in. Maybe that’s what we need. We need a fresh start,” he said.
Saint Lucian pilot and aircraft mechanic, Silvanius Ernest, is also of the view that it is only a matter of time before the financially strapped regional airline collapses. “I am agreeing with the Prime Minister not to put a cent into LIAT until they can fix it” adding, “regional aviation is a mighty problem, no one is paying attention. With all the money that has gone into LIAT, what do we know about how the money is spent?” he asked. “It’s just about five years that LIAT bought brand new aircraft and see the mess that they are in.”
Nevertheless, LIAT continues to service Saint Lucia and the wider Caribbean region, while the respective governments collect landing fees and other taxes that contribute to the high cost of regional travel, offering no meaningful proposal on the way forward for region travel. In the interim, Antigua and Barbuda, Prime Minister, Gaston Browne, put forward a strategic approach on LIAT and pledged his government “to resist any collapse of LIAT and any move to re-create its replacement.”
Furthermore, without mentioning any of his Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) colleagues, Browne said, “Some of them are totally rudderless; the whole issue of oneness means nothing to them; they’re extremely selfish and I have to tell you they are not following in the tradition of John Compton and VC Bird.”