Antigua and Barbuda PM preparing to put forward strategic approach for LIAT

(MENAFN- Caribbean News Now)

By Melanius Alphonse
Caribbean News Now associate managing editor

ST JOHNS, Antigua – Following prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines Dr Ralph Gonsalves remarks that LIAT's closure is imminent, prime minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley's revelation that she was 'engaging the European Investment Bank (EIB) for available options in the transportation sector," Antigua and Barbuda prime minister, Gaston Browne will be putting forward a strategic approach for discussion and subsequent approval at LIAT's shareholders and directors meeting in Barbados on Tuesday.

Previously, Gonsalves noted that regional governments have not been responding to a call for new funding so the shareholders are now reaching a critical point and there will be a transitional restructuring leading to a closure of LIAT.

On Thursday, Browne gave the assurance that his government will never allow LIAT to go under, promising to make Antigua's contribution of US$960,310. This amount represents part of LIAT's previous request for emergency funding form regional governments totalling US$5.4 million.

Brown went further stating, 'All will be done to safeguard employment,' adding that 'there is [a] need for stability and certainty.'

Antigua and Barbuda has a 13 percent shareholding in LIAT in addition to its major economic interest of saving the jobs of hundreds of local workers.

'LIAT's folding would be bad for regional air travel and begging for cash injections periodically cannot be the recipe for the survival of the airline,' said aviation consultant James Lynch, adding, 'begging for cash injections periodically cannot be the recipe for the survival of the airline.'

LIAT's pilots' association president Carl Burke said recently, 'LIAT staff have played their part by agreeing to salary pay cuts.' However, a six percent pay cut won't be enough to help keep the regional airline flying.

Consultants and business entities continue to echo the catastrophic impact the imminent closure of LIAT will have on regional transportation, social and economic dysfunction.

A prominent attorney and adviser to regional governments said, 'Without LIAT, I probably would not have a legal practice.'

The Caribbean region depends on tourism for its economic viability notwithstanding the high cost of regional travel. There is also the need to facilitate commerce, trade (connecting people, goods and services) and social cohesion within pertain to regional integration.

Meanwhile, Saint Lucia's prime minister, Allen Chastanet, who will be the chair of CARICOM in a few months, has again reiterated that his administration will not support the financially strapped LIAT if it continues to be business as usual.

'LIAT must change,' he told local reporters, 'If in fact, it is going to be business as usual, we would not be in a position to support LIAT. Obviously, it's a big concern to all of us and I am hoping that at the upcoming meeting they will be able to find a resolution.'

'They tried the restructuring now several times and the restructuring hasn't worked,' noting that LIAT was given a new lease on life years prior, including debt forgiveness, new aircrafts and recapitalised, yet, 'LIAT is back in the same position years later,' Chastanet said.

'I think there is an absolute need and ability to have a successful airline in the region, but it must be able to intertwine business practices as well as its responsibility to provide air services to the countries. 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.

Nevertheless, aviation experts are not convinced that 'other airlines' according to Chastanet 'could very easily fill the gap that is left by LIAT.'

Data and recent history indicate that various airlines have entered the regional markets LIAT services, but to date, none are operating.

At LIAT's shareholders and directors meeting in Barbados on Tuesday, Browne and his delegation will reiterate the social and economic aspects of LIAT, table a strategic approach on the way forward, and his government pledge 'to resist any collapse of LIAT and any move to re-create its replacement.'


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