The struggling regional airline LIAT is threatening to stop serving countries that hurt its bottom line, while it wants those that benefit from its service to pay up.
Chairman of the shareholder governments Dr Ralph Gonsalves Wednesday warned the airline must not be treated as though it were show business, as he outlined a range of reforms over the coming months – including the possibility of staff cuts – to return it to profitability.
Gonsalves said the airline would be cutting some “non-performing and non-profitable” routes and, without making a link, said three regional governments – St Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis and Grenada – had been invited to become “equity partners”, along with the current shareholders, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines.
“The review is being done at the board level, looking at the organizational structure and determining what is the optimal number of employees we should have going forward in serving the entire network,” Gonsalves said.
On Wednesday, Gonsalves sent a strong message to critics to put up and stop treating the regional transportation issue as if it were entertainment.
“Tell me what is it you want by all means. If you don’t want to invest in LIAT, invest in a competitor airline. This is a free world. You can invest in what you want to invest in. The point is this, all you do when you invest, let us have a level playing field with everybody.
“Look, let us cut out the entertainment about the airline business. This is serious business for serious people. Discussing regional transportation is not part of the entertainment industry and we have had too much entertainment for too long on this subject and we must be serious about it because that is what keeps our region functioning . . . . And I want to encourage my colleagues without any rancour, but with the loving embrace of solidarity, for us to work together and get more governments involved in this thing and really make changes. Let them come in and make the change,” the Vincentian leader said.
Gonsalves repeated a previously stated promise to cut non-performing routes, along with efforts to “iron out some security issues” to improve turnaround time, greater investment in luggage and mail tracking technology, and staff training.
The chairman of the shareholder governments identified weak technology infrastructure, a smaller fleet, less-than-ideal ground handling systems and frequent illnesses among staff as some of the areas that needed urgent attention.
Gonsalves said “the popular criticisms that the politicians poke their nose in LIAT and running it to the ground” were untrue and it was the management that would decide on which routes to cut “within the policy that is laid down by the shareholders”.
The prime minister also revealed that Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda and St Vincent and the Grenadines had been asked to approve an additional EC$5 million for the airline, with Dominica being speared because it continued to struggle with the effect of Tropical Storm Erika.
The Caribbean Development Bank, he said, would be asked to support a study of an impact of proposed reduction in the taxes and to address “a long-term capitalization issue . . . and also to have more participation from other territories which benefit from the LIAT network”.
Story and Photo First Published Barbados Today