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Open letter to LIAT’s big boys

James C. Lynch

Open letter to LIAT’s big boys

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Gentlemen, since before 2012 I have repeatedly heard of calls by the current majority shareholders of LIAT, through Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent, to take up more shares or to simply contribute towards the airline’s losses.

Gentlemen, you know my name well by now. It has been before you hundreds of times through letters, emails, faxes, text messages, and recently in public in the Press.

For almost a decade I have been trying to communicate with you mostly for just one reason, and that is to take the politics and incompetence in aviation out of eastern Caribbean aviation, whether at the Civil Aviation Department (or Civil Aviation Authority) level or at the airline level.

For some five decades LIAT has been abused as much as your own taxpayers for no good reason. Board after board, management after management continue to be politically appointed and continue to lose money and market share to the point where the airline is on the brink of the precipice.

And you need not respond that this is not the case, because if all was well, you would not be out in public demanding that other governments join you in throwing money at the existing form of LIAT to keep it alive.

Since at least 2012, Dr Kenny Anthony has told you, in public, that his country’s taxpayers would not be supporting LIAT’s excesses, and that if you wanted St Lucia at the airline’s table, you had to make major changes in its oversight (board) and management.

Nothing has changed, yet now here you are again making the same demands.

My considered forecast is that LIAT has less than two years to exist before either the Caribbean Development Bank or some other creditor group chains its doors and sells the airplanes for debt. There is good reason for this forecast: LIAT’s total passenger load (income, revenue) in the last year was half what it was the year before, yet the expenses remain the same – or even greater – considering the constant arrival/delivery of new airplanes.

Users of the airline are gladly moving to other carriers, making other arrangements, finding some other way to travel than the still-late, still-cancelled, still-abusive LIAT.

I repeat my simple requests:

1. Take the politics – and politicians – out of LIAT.

2. Take all of the political appointees out of LIAT, at all levels.

3. Remove the entire board and install new board members composed of persons with the primary required practical knowledge set of how an airline should be run. Give them the basic mandate and and let them be the overall deciders of the airline’s direction.

4. Remove the current executive – no matter the cost, given what they are costing the shareholders now – and require the new board to find qualified people with drive and imagination who can turn the airline around in less than six months.

5. Make it clear to the board that its mandate is that the airline should at least break even.

6. The board in turn is to make it clear to the executive management that their job is to turn the airline around, and that the airline should at least break even or that they will lose their jobs.

7. If the board cannot get management to at least break even, then they will also lose their jobs. A board has no claim to tenure either.

8. Make LIAT’s annual accounts public, so that the taxpayers, whose hard-earned dollars go towards supporting it, at are least able to see how their money was spent.

Gentlemen, the ball is in your court. Change LIAT, or the airline will die. And don’t say that nobody has warned you.

James C. Lynch, former LIAT captain