OVER ITS 57 years of operations, LIAT, the old faithful lady of intra-regional air transportation, has had to overcome many survival challenges—including competition from foreign and regional carriers—to provide daily services that NO others have succeeded in doing, even with mostly an old fleet of aircraft.
Now, amid lingering criticisms over rescheduled flights, it is busily and agonisingly engaged in costly efforts to significantly improve its daily services to some 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 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, lawyer 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.
It has survived a plethora of efforts by national/regional entrepreneurs, among them “Carib Express”, “Caribbean Star”, “BWExpress” and “Air Jamaica”, as well as “American Eagle” to provide, with its some 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 have to cope with the old salvos of habitual 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 that these critics, among them a mix of private corporate interests, a few governments and trade union elements and a core of diehard opponents-yet to offer constructive marketable alternatives-maintain their bad-mouthing LIAT about its operations.
The Caribbean public should also be reminded, while LIAT’s management seek to cope with demands of an estimated 850 employees, scattered across the region, where it serves 21 destinations with some one hundred daily flights-a unique service that include 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 current trio of 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, while 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? There are those within the OECS subregion who seem bent against lifting a finger to help LIAT while yet content to benefit from its faithful intra-regional services.
The revival of the ole’ talk about a regional fast-ferry service from Trinidad and Tobago and across the Eastern Caribbean, does not face up to the challenges to help LIAT maintain its commitment to keep serving the growing daily needs of the region’s people with some 100 daily flights.