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OUR CARIBBEAN: Region owes LIAT much


Rickey Singh

OUR CARIBBEAN: Region owes LIAT much

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THE OLD faithful lady of intra-regional air transportation – LIAT – is busily and agonisingly engaged in costly efforts to significantly improve its daily services to 21 destinations with a new fleet of ten modern and more spacious aircraft.
It’s being done at a cost of US$107 million to the 57-year-old airline which has been fortunate to find crucial financial support with a loan of US$65 million from the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB).
Like the University of the West Indies, the CDB remains indispensable to the social, economic and cultural development of member states and territories of this region.
The CDB has proved to be a vital partner of LIAT over the years in ensuring the daily air transportation needs of Caribbean citizens, among them doctors, lawyers, engineers, business and other professionals, in addition to the thousands of foreign and West Indian tourists who contribute to maintaining the tourism sector as a major pillar of the regional economy, year after year.
For all the specific and tell-tale problems for which it is so often flayed, the reality is that had there been no such airline as LIAT, the region’s governments and private sector would have been compelled to establish one since no other carrier comes anywhere near to the huge daily intra-regional service being provided, warts and all, by this indigenous airline.
New fleet
It has survived a plethora of efforts by national/regional entrepreneurs, among them Carib Express, Caribbean Star, BWExpress, Air Jamaica, as well as American Eagle, to provide, with its 150 pilots and 18 Dash-8 aircraft, daily flights to the 21 regional destinations it uniquely serves – like no other airline – national, regional or foreign-owned.
Disappointingly, however, instead of welcoming this bold initiative for a new fleet of aircraft, as approved by its shareholders and board of directors, to overcome the “flight blues”, LIAT’s management has to cope with the salvos of traditional critics, often short on alternatives, but long on complaints, including unsubstantiated claims.
It needs to be noted that the switch from the age-old Dash-8 aircraft to the modern ATRs became more compelling in the face of deteriorating passenger services from LIAT with frequent mechanical breakdowns in aircraft – an average of one every three days – to the multiplying grievances of affected customers deprived of an available alternative.
Needless to say, these critics, among them a mix of private corporate interests, a few governments and trade union elements and a core of diehard opponents – who have yet to offer constructive, marketable alternatives – maintain their “bad-mouthing” of LIAT operations.
The Caribbean public should also be reminded that LIAT’s management seeks to cope with demands of an estimated 850 employees scattered across the region, where it serves 21 destinations with 100 daily flights.
It’s a unique service that includes CARICOM destinations where some governments pay much lip service to regional integration without becoming involved in any practical form of assistance to LIAT.
In this context the three long-standing shareholder governments – Barbados (the major one), Antigua and Barbuda and St Vincent and the Grenadines – deserve to be commended for their respective commitment to help keep LIAT in operation as the sole intra-regional airline.
Question
Others, like Grenada, St Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis, are reputed to be “thinking” about the modalities of involvement. Encouragingly, Dominica recently came on board.
A pertinent question remains: when will the member governments of CARICOM cut the “talk” on improving intra-regional air transportation service, including practical support for LIAT?
Hopefully, some positive development could emerge.
• Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean journalist.

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