Gatesworth James, spokesperson of Civil Aviation, Marine, Transportation and the Ports for the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) says that Caribbean governments have been unfair to LIAT.
“Countries must invest in their own infrastructure. It is not for the airlines to pay for it. There are a number of other segments that benefit from a new airport. Why should you want to levy the cost of a new airport on the airlines? It is unfair. Traffic will drop because people respond negatively or positively to the cost of fares and pretty soon the airline will not be able to afford it,” James said.
He explained that when airlines first started being taxed in the early 1980s, it was for a specific purpose such as installations that enhanced safety and security, and airports would charge a small fee to offset the cost of that installation.
The DNA spokesman indicated that, in his opinion, governments are now applying a general tax on airlines to satisfy budgetary needs that should be serviced by other means. He concluded that governments seem to not have the will to change this practice since they seem to now budget the revenue collected from airlines and are therefore seemingly dependent on these funds.
He also recalled a period when governments did not want airlines to distinguish between taxes and fares. This gave the impression that the airlines had raised their prices when that was really not the case. Passengers now pay 30 percent to 40 percent of ticket prices in taxes.
James was adamant that the government of Antigua and Barbuda should lead the way in ensuring affordable travel via the regional carrier, LIAT.
Airline travel throughout the Caribbean is said to have dropped more than 30 percent since the turn of the century, according to James.
James’ sentiments mirror that of Dr. Keith Mitchell, the chairman of the Board of Directors of the Caribbean Development Bank.
Dr. Mitchell, during the opening ceremony of the 48th Annual Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) meeting in May, had said that governments should address the high cost of travel in the region.
He’d also said that he has “long advocated for the immediate need” to address the issue.
Mitchell also had reiterated the call he’d made at various heads of government conferences that heads should collectively agree to reduce airline ticket taxes and some other fees which are attached to intra-regional air travel.”
Back in 2016, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, said that the structure of the regional aviation industry limits the extent to which Caricom heads of government can take action to lower the cost of intra-regional travel.
He had also said that he understood the frustration, but the very structure of air travel in particular is capital intensive, and that a single aircraft for LIAT may cost ‘twenty-something’ million dollars, and to have 10 of them is $200 million spread across a very limited population base.