LIAT resumes normal flights
ST JOHN’S, Antigua, June 11, CMC — A huge fire swept through a hangar of regional carrier LIAT which is based at Antigua’s international airport, late on Sunday night and into early Monday, destroying one of the airline’s planes and briefly suspending flights at Coolidge, just east of here.
But the airline said it expected all flights to operate normally on Monday from the VC Bird International Airport, which is also the main hub of its 21-destination network.
It said the hangar was unoccupied at the time and no one was hurt in the explosion.
“It is expected at this time that all flights will operate normally today (Monday),” LIAT spokesman Desmond Brown said in an update issued at 2.15 am. “A further update will be given at 10 am.”
Residents in the area told the Caribbean Media Corporation they heard several explosions shortly before 10.30 pm (0230 GMT Monday) and saw smoke billowing from the facility, located at the airport’s eastern edge.
It took more than three hours for firefighters and tenders from the airport and from stations around the island to contain the dangerous fire, as explosions continued to ring through the gutted hangar.
Observer Radio, which is located at Coolidge Industrial Park just north of the airport, reported firefighters had been hampered by strong winds as they fought the blaze.
Brown said the fire broke out in Hangar Number One, which sits adjacent to the runway, destroying the facility and the aircraft it housed, together with two office buildings. But he said neighbouring offices and the airline’s cargo facilities were not affected.
The hangar, which sits on the site of LIAT’s original headquarters complex, is used for the maintenance of the airline’s fleet of 18 Canadian-made Bombardier Q-400 and deHavilland Dash-8 aircraft. The airline’s administrative office had shifted to another part of the airport.
The destroyed plane, registration V2-LGH, is, at 21 years and three months, the oldest of three Dash-8s still in LIAT’s fleet. The plane was undergoing a routine maintenance check at the time, according to radio reports.
“The company is working with the investigative authorities of Antigua and Barbuda as well as the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority (ECCAA) to ascertain the cause of the fire,” the airline spokesman said in a statement.
Most flights in LIAT’s network fan out in the early morning hours from LIAT hubs at Antigua’s VC Bird and Barbados’ Grantley Adams airports.
The raging fire forced the Antigua and Barbuda Airport Authority to suspend operations at VC Bird until firefighters had managed to put it out and an initial assessment could be carried out.
But Brown said the airport was expected to open later in the morning.
The airline issued a public announcement it was calling out staff at Buildings One, Two, Three and Four at the LIAT Hangar to report the company’s Sealy Building head office at 8 am Monday.
The fire comes as a blow to the 56-year-old island-hopping carrier, owned by the governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados and St Vincent and the Grenadines, which has been saddled with financial and industrial relations problems over the years.