CONCERNED: Jean Holder

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LIAT chairman wants Caricom summit on transportation

lBRIDGETOWN

Chairman of the cash-strapped regional airline, LIAT, is calling for a meeting of Caribbean Community (Caricom) leaders early in 2013 to deal with transportation problems in the region.

In a paper to the meeting of major shareholders of the Antigua-based airline over the weekend, Jean Holder said that the summit should be convened to discuss regional air transportation and its critical role in supporting the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME).

The CSME allows for the free movement of goods, services, skills and people across the 15-member Caricom grouping and Holder, a former senior executive of the region's tourism industry, said "the focus of the meeting must not be about blaming the airlines which have given a total of 200 years of service to the region and the countries which have subsidised the rest of the region.

"It must be about what is needed to get regional transportation right and what and how much each country which is a beneficiary of the services will contribute to the cause in its own best interests. The agenda must be wide enough to include a number of aviation issues which are related to the proper functioning of regional air transportation."

Holder said the concept of a Single Market and Economy takes for granted the existence of an efficiently run and reasonably priced transportation service that meets the passenger and cargo needs of all Community partners.

"Until this is achieved, Caricom should prioritise the discussion of this item at the highest level. The discussion should not, however, be restricted to how inefficient and expensive are the existing services paid for by a few countries, although this is a legitimate concern.

"It should also be about what are the reasons for the inefficiencies and what each member state of Caricom, other destinations currently served, and all the various tourism partners, such as hoteliers for whom air lift is critical, intend to contribute, financially and otherwise, according to their abilities, to achieve the objectives desired. This is a discussion that many of those who now benefit, and will benefit even more from an improved service, have, to date, refused to entertain."

In his paper, Holder reiterated a call for communication, cooperation and alliances between Caribbean carriers that stretches over a long period.

"There are many forms to consider; code sharing, alliances, functional cooperation, a Holding Company, under which each carrier retains its separate persona and an outright merger where all entities become one," Holder said, noting that the last attempt occurred  in 2003, only to collapse when "suddenly, without explanation, Trinidad and Tobago, pulled out of the arrangement".

Holder said the "idea of Caricom airline alliances must be once more put on the table and a committee, including representatives of the management of the  carriers be established, without delay, to examine the feasibility of this concept".

He said the discussions among the regional leaders and stakeholders must take place "with regard to the articles of the Caricom Multilateral Agreement concerning the operation of Air Services within the Caribbean Community".

—CMC

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