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EDITORIAL: LIAT needs all the lift it can get

BEA DOTTIN, [email protected]

EDITORIAL: LIAT needs all the lift it can get

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When four Caribbean leaders met in Bridgetown last Friday to discuss the future of the regional airline LIAT, they sounded upbeat, even with the times continuing to be turbulent for the airline industry worldwide.
It is evident, after hearing not only the political directorate, but moreso the airline’s chairman Jean Holder and chief executive officer Ian Brunton, that a sustainable business model must be rolled out. This is to ensure that LIAT becomes a viable option in a sector where changes and an ever spiralling fuel bill has caused it to be on a bumpy ride for many years.
But, for all of LIAT’s challenges, we have come to recognize that we cannot do without its services. Indeed, numerous attempts by a supposedly more efficient private sector have shown that the airline industry is not an easy undertaking.
From American Airlines to Air Jamaica under Gordon “Butch” Stewart, to RedJet, we can see the tremendous challenges of running an airline. The problems facing the airline sector are similar in Canada as in Ireland and United States, where restructuring, strategic partnership and mergers are commonplace.
Over the years, LIAT has been critical to us in Barbados; it has provided quality jobs, given people a chance to develop critical technical know-how, has ensured that this island become a gateway to major cities for people in the Eastern Caribbean and has certainly contributed significantly to revenues at the Grantley Adams International Airport. For many Barbadians, there has only been the heaping of criticism on LIAT without understanding the issues. A major burden for LIAT is that it can no longer depend on heavy subsidies, but must struggle to pay its way.
LIAT cannot survive on the plaudits of a service well done in the past; neither can it simply boast of its outstanding safety record. Rather, it must find resolution through fundamental reorganization already started, from which it should emerge stronger and better poised for the long haul.
We want the airline’s plan for renewal and growth to succeed, so that the Grantley Adams International Airport, our country, the travelling public and LIAT’s employees can all reap benefits. LIAT’s management must have the confidence and support of the unions and the pilots’ association as it keeps the public and critical stakeholder constantly and fully informed.
The governments of St Lucia, Grenada and St Kitts-Nevis all need to get on board and give their full backing to LIAT in return for the tremendous benefits, direct and indirect, that they reap.
We must by now recognize that LIAT, despite all its trials is nothing less than an essential service, certainly for Barbados and most of the Eastern Caribbean. We are thankful for the many benefits the airline has given us.
And, we must see to it that the thousands of travellers who depend upon it are not left stranded.