Regional leaders discuss air transportation
St George’s – Grenada prime minister Dickon Mitchell confirmed on Wednesday that regional leaders met Tuesday to discuss the situation regarding air transportation in the Caribbean amidst concerns that both regional and international travellers are finding its very expensive and difficult to commute.
Mitchell, speaking at the weekly post-Cabinet news conference, told reporters that the meeting was chaired by the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) and attended by leaders of the sub-regional Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), a representative of Barbados, and the President of Guyana, Dr Irfaan Ali.
“It was agreed that we would retain a consultant to provide advice to the heads of the region as to how we can address the critical need to have, particularly air transportation, resumed at a level that existed prior to COVID-19,” Mitchell said.
Travel around the Caribbean has become increasingly difficult since regional airline, LIAT significantly scaled back its operations two years ago at the height of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Mitchell, who led the National Democratic Congress (NDC) to victory in general elections last month, said LIAT (1974) Limited “is bankrupt and that has been made clear and it is in receivership”.
“Where we are now is finding appropriate air travel for the OECS in particular, and whether it is LIAT, a new version of LIAT, or any other carrier, we are really interested in finding appropriate air travel for the OECS,” he said.
“I can certainly say it will not be LIAT (1974) because obviously that entity is bankrupt, and no one is reviving that entity. As you may be aware, I think there is LIAT (2020), which currently operates out of Antigua and has two planes in service.”
He added: “The question maybe whether that service is extended, whether a new entity is created. There is also Inter-Caribbean Airways, whether there is a combination of both of that.
“Where we are is that we want to ensure that there is appropriate air services in the Caribbean, and we are committed to helping in any way we can.”
Mitchell said the new initiative may mean “a direct financial contribution whether from an equity perspective, whether from a loan perspective”.
“It may mean looking at the taxes on landing charges and fees that are charged at our airport,” he said. “We are open to looking at all of the possibilities at coming up with the best solutions.”
He added that Grenada was committed to playing its part “in ensuring that regional travel returns for the benefit of Grenada”.
“Our regional tourism market has almost disappeared because of the lack of air connectivity to Grenada,” he said. “It is very difficult to travel from Grenada regionally, and it is very expensive to travel from Grenada to the international market.
“I think our diaspora citizens have been complaining about the costs of flights from the eastern seaboard of the United States to get to Grenada. Many of them have to stop in St Lucia … and take British Airways down from St Lucia to Grenada.
“As a government, we recognise the critical role that air travel plays in our economy, in our social life, and in our development, and therefore, we are committed to doing everything we can to improve that situation.”
Caricom leaders agreed at their summit last month in Suriname on a new modern Multilateral Air Services Agreement (MASA) that will allow for a new framework within which air transportation will operate in the region.