PM to steer shareholders effort to get LIAT back on course
Prime Minister Freundel Stuart is leading an effort to get LIAT back on sound financial footing, against the backdrop of a warning that if a plan being implemented by the regional airline’s board of directors fails the carrier could be grounded.
Minister of Tourism and International Transport Richard Sealy has disclosed that Stuart will host other leaders of shareholder governments this week with the hope of finding answers to problems such as “prohibitive” air fares, and finding an alternative funding model for LIAT.
“Prime Minister Stuart is leading the effort to get LIAT viable, properly managed and on a sound footing,” he told Barbados TODAY, stressing that the airline was at a point where if it could not become viable, it would have to get out of business.
“You simply can’t continue losing all of that money. None of the shareholders, as it presently stands, can afford to hand a blank cheque every year.
“There will be definite changes going forward. We don’t have any choice in the matter. It is either a better future or the airline will be grounded,” Sealy added, warning that if there was no LIAT “there are countries in the Caribbean that would collapse”.
Sealy identified suspect management decisions, political interference, the involvement of multiple trade unions, and the wear and tear of planes landing and taking off among the problems that have caused the airline to hemorrhage money.
“We have to look at the whole model of how it’s funded. One thing is sure, the airline cannot continue to lose money year in and year out,” he insisted.
The Minister of Tourism also cautioned that if a situation continued where fares had to be increased to allow the airline to continue in the air, travelling on LIAT would become “prohibitive to the average Caribbean citizen”.
“It is already prohibitive to large sections of our population. We would have to look at that and craft a model that will allow us to ultimately get to a point where we can have more affordable travel to maximize the capacity of LIAT,” Sealy said.
He also took a swipe at some Caribbean countries that supported other airlines but refused to invest in LIAT.
“The prime ministers will have to look at having more countries becoming shareholders of LIAT. Dominica came on board recently. Whatever their fiscal challenges, they could still find the resources to come and get a piece of the action. I have a lot of respect for that kind of approach,” the Cabinet Minister said.
“There are some others who are probably in a little better off shape than Dominica. There are some others who find money to give extra regional airlines, but can’t find a cent for LIAT. Many of these folks need LIAT more than Barbados does.
“Even some of the largest critics of LIAT . . . their governments could not survive if they didn’t have LIAT landing at their airports,” Sealy said.
However, he was quick to add that the aim was not to antagonize any government, but to get the airline in shape and hopefully in the process get additional investors involved.
“If we don’t, we would work with who we have to work with. But I do look forward to seeing other people get involved,” he said.
The Minister of Tourism was speaking against the backdrop of efforts by Antigua & Barbuda to secure greater control of the airline and to keep as many services in that twin-island nation as possible.
Sealy told Barbados TODAY it was not important to focus on such matters, contending that neither the location of the airline nor who controlled it was important. He said the LIAT board moving forward with a plan to improve the carrier financially was the most important matter at this stage.
“There is a proposal that . . . the chief executive officer has been trying to implement and we will see how that goes. That is the first step. It [the board plan] calls for a series of decisions to be made,” Sealy said.
“We look forward to getting the airline on a sound footing [and] we think the board is going in the right direction.”