We cannot allow LIAT to fail

The Caribbean’s track record in the business of air transport has been abysmal.

Admittedly, some international experts have warned that even before takeoff, the airline industry appears destined on a course of unprofitability.

The region knows all too well the troubling story. In the English-speaking Caribbean, we have witnessed the rise, bumpy rides and eventual crash of Carib Express, Air Jamaica, REDjet, and Caribbean Star, just to name a few.

Two lone survivors, Caribbean Airlines and LIAT, linger on, but far from rising towards profitability they continue to soar in the red.

The complaints about LIAT’s failings from at least three regional governments – St Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada and Dominica – are nothing new. They are merely grim reminders that we have been spinning top in mud, or perhaps in this case, the air, far too long.

Just ask across the Caribbean what LIAT stands for and you will more than likely hear “Leave Island Any Time” or “Late If At Tall”. The travelling public has almost resigned itself to inconsistent arrivals, late departures, flight cancellations, poor customer service and the occasional strikes.

But as declared last week by Vincentian Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, a relentless champion of the beleaguered carrier and chairman of the shareholder governments, LIAT must do better.

While there is no mistaking LIAT’s role as an essential service for this archipelago of islands for which tourism is the lifeblood of the economies, we cannot close our eyes to the fact that we remain grounded on the issues of efficiency, service and viability.

Still, the Caribbean needs a LIAT. Even the governments that have been full of criticism but empty on action heavily depend on the carrier. We wonder how they would fare if LIAT cut services to their destinations tomorrow. St Lucia and Grenada easily to come mind.

While arguments persist for the decades-old airline to be put in private hands, the bitter lessons left behind by REDjet and others should be a cautionary tale.

What is clear is that the island-hopping carrier, which was never really properly funded from inception, needs a clear investment plan in which all its beneficiaries put their money where their mouths are.

LIAT simply cannot continue to function as a regional ZR that Barbados, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica continue to fund.

Today, the St Lucian Prime Minister Allen Chastanet declared his hand, when he announced that his government had already started negotiations with other carriers to provide air service to Castries.

St Lucia unrealistically expects to continue to get LIAT flights, but is not prepared to put in a penny. Shameful. Time has shown us that when all have failed LIAT has remained. The St Lucian leader would do well to remember this.

We are not advocating investment at any cost. But the spasmodic cash injections by shareholder governments when LIAT comes a begging are not the remedy. Taxpayers across the region cannot afford that bitter medicine. Tough decisions must be made for this dying patient.

To survive, recover and even prosper, LIAT requires immediate surgery. The airline’s operations require radical change.

Firstly, governments must get serious about the airline. LIAT is not a cash cow and the imposition of exorbitant taxes and fees is harming its competitiveness. Furthermore, there can be no place for insularity when urgent action is needed. So that if it makes good financial sense for LIAT to shift its base to Barbados, leaders objecting to the move should step out of the way.

 The fact is, a successful airline must have a credible plan and a credible balance sheet, set growth objectives and must be held accountable. Shareholders must demand this. To continue on the current course will only result in disaster.

3 Responses to We cannot allow LIAT to fail

  1. Jim Lynch September 16, 2016 at 9:53 am


    With all due respect, I don’t think you “get it” either.

    The problem with LIAT is not that enough money is being thrown at it, the problem with LIAT is that the money that is thrown at it is being wasted.

    From the top, LIAT is run by politicians, authors, haberdashers, construction magnates, race car drivers, hardware store owners – anybody but those who have the qualifications, skills, experience, knowledge and contacts to make a contribution to LIAT’s success.

    I agree that LIAT is a valuable resource, and – as you say – it should not be handed investment at any cost. That investment, however, should be directed and handled by people who know what they are doing in aviation and airlines, NOT by politicians and political appointees who have far-ranging agendas most of which have nothing to do with aviation.

    I have proposed – many times, privately and publicly – to the specific politicians involved that they step back, name their mandates, replace the Board with those who have that knowledge and those industry contacts, and let the professionals get on with the job.

    ONLY THEN can LIAT become a commercially run airline which either breaks even or makes a profit.

    As long as LIAT is being run by politicians, friends of politicians and/or political appointees without any relevant competence (or accountability) who are sent in and told to “see what you can do”, LIAT will require truckloads of money every month to keep going.

    Basically, LIAT needs REMOVAL of all the political interference, and INSERTION of professional aviation expertise.

    Unless major changes are made in that direction, LIAT WILL FAIL – if only because the shareholder governments run out of money and no competent investor will touch it.

  2. Tee White September 16, 2016 at 2:27 pm

    That we need LIAT as a regional airline is clear. That the airline needs to be run by people who are qualified and competent in running a regional airline without political interference is also clear. The challenge is getting from here to there.

    The issue of the excessive taxes on flights also needs to be addressed as it is pushing up the LIAT fares and pushing down demand. What is the point of collecting all these taxes only to have to give them back to LIAT because the airline is ailing? Why not reduce the tax burden so that the airline has more chance of being commercially viable?

  3. Donild Trimp September 18, 2016 at 9:40 pm

    Redjet failed because of Gov’t pettiness and roadblocks.

    LIAT will also fail, the question is when and how soon.

    Some air fares between islands on LIAT are more expensive than fares from Toronto to the Caribbean.

    Return air fares from Trinidad to Barbados on CAL is more expensive than a return air fare from Toronto to Barbados.


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