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Shape up or ship out

by Latoya Burnham

keithmitchellShape up and fly right, or else.

That was the message Grenada’s leader, Dr. Keith Mitchell, sent to regional carrier LIAT today as he acknowledge that while his country intends to make regional transport an issue for his new administration, the airline could not continue to operate as it has and expect his government’s support.

It is a matter the prime minister said during an interview with the media in Barbados, that he intended to raise with Chairman Dr. Jean Holder when they meet soon.

Stating that he had been called anti-LIAT for his strong position on forcing the regional carrier to be accountable while profitable, Mitchell said far from being against the airline, he simply believed regional transportation was necessary and should be competitive.

“I have been attacked and criticised before by some uninformed sources in some governments and by the media for being anti-LIAT. Now how could I be anti-LIAT. I am anti any business that does not want to get its act together, reduce wastage and provide increase efficiency in services. I want all operations, all governments to operate in that way, to give increased services and stop wastage.

“LIAT as we know, historically has been my view, an inefficient operation, even when it had monopoly services and the planes were always packed with people… Yet when LIAT presented books, it was always losing money. That made no sense,” he argued.

Part of the problem, he noted was the heavy staff complement which the airline had, adding that this was something that could not continue.

Stating that he was an outspoken critic of this, he said the Grenada government still invested, gave LIAT concessions and opportunities. But he maintained that if his government was going to invest the country’s limited resources, he expected better from the airline.

“I am meeting the chairman of LIAT, Holder and some members …, and I will be talking to him about how Grenada can help LIAT to become more responsible in the context I just mentioned and at the same time provide increase services. As it stands, I cannot tell you I feel very happy about what is happening there,” he said.

He recalled three weeks before his country’s February 19 election needing to travel to Trinidad on urgent business and was being told he would have to go to Barbados, St. Vincent and then Tobago to get to Trinidad.

This kind of roundabout travel, he argued, was a deterrent to flying within the region, stressing that it had to change.

“LIAT has an enormous opportunity. There is not sufficient movement of people within the region. We talking CSME, we talking free movement of people, but we have no transport. We better get serious competition.

“So when I say LIAT must have competition; when I say the governments must invest; the private sector must play a role, I say this in a context that I care about the operations of LIAT. I want LIAT to be a factor in the region’s tourism transport, but I also expect it to be a responsible one,” said Mitchell.

The Grenada leader stated: “Therefore, if LIAT continues to fail to deliver, I will tell Jean [Holder], my friend, then Grenada has no choice. Right now people cannot leave Grenada to go nowhere unless you have lots of resources and you have lots of time… I will not invest in an operation I consider, wants to be continued inefficient and not responsible.”

He hinted that they could also look elsewhere for that transport.

“Caribbean Airlines is there and I will not fail in my responsibility to look at this. I believe a number of governments have this same feeling I have and if you have a united effort and we are able to get the private sector involved, there are businesses out there. As long as an airline sees opportunity for profitability and opportunities for transport, expanding their operation, they are not going to fail to come.

“We have to come up with the vision. We have to come up with the will and sometimes, of course, the resources,” said Mitchell.

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