At the risk of LIAT’s survival

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When you read the opening line of a press release and it ends by describing a relationship as having “deteriorated to an all-time low”, you know things are bad. Well, that is exactly how the Leeward Island Airlines Pilots Association (LIALPA) began its recent press release and described its relationship with LIAT management.  It stated, “The Leeward Island Pilots Association would like to inform the General Public that its relationship with LIAT (1974) Ltd is currently strained and has deteriorated to an all time low.”
According to LIALPA President Carl B Burke, whose signature appears at the end of the press release, “… It is our view that LIAT continues to act in bad faith”. The accusation is in relation to the on-going disputes with the company; in particular the company’s salary package offer in January of this year which, according to Burke, “LIALPA accepted … on the premise of the pilots would make this a one off concession to ensure the survival of the Company”.
Those are pretty strong words and the entire press release seems to indicate that the pilots are determined to settle this though industrial or court action to protect their interests. Burke said that “LIALPA would like to once again make a final appeal to LIAT to honour its agreement … to avoid any further escalation of this matter,” while warning “Failure to do so would leave the Association with no other choice but to act.”
Like everyone else, we shake our heads every time the LIALPA/LIAT disputes hit the press. Thankfully LIAT has not decided to respond publicly this time. We have written about the mess that is LIAT many times before and do not understand how serious and immediate action is not taken to remedy the situation. It is obvious that the airline is in dire straits and we would venture to say that the customer relationships are also at an all-time low, to borrow the words of Captain Burke.
Just think of all of the very public spats that have been ventilated in the public before this. The mere fact that things have reached that far, like this latest situation, demonstrates that the parties cannot bring themselves to agree. If you listen to representatives of both sides, you will hear them describe the other side in very similar terms, using few, if any, which are complimentary.
So, while examining how we got here is always helpful to finding a resolution, the better question right now is where do we go from here? How are we to avert a situation where the “all-time low” drifts lower? It is obvious that the pilots have dug in their heels and it is also obvious to everyone that planes do not fly themselves, so if the region’s main method of travel is to continue moving people about the region then something drastic needs to be done. LIAT’s management and LIALPA have been given enough time to settle this among themselves and they have been unable to do so, therefore, the government stakeholders need to intervene.
Captain Burke and his LIALPA members have pointed out what is probably the most salient point in all of this – the company’s survival. It makes little difference where you stand on the issue because if this escalates, the company’s mere existence could be at risk. And just think about that for a moment. What happens to the region’s economies when travel becomes constrained? Not a pleasant thought, is it?
Many have suggested that LIAT’s demise is the answer. They believe that LIAT is beyond repair and needs to fold so that a stronger, better organised airline can emerge. There are also other people that believe that LIAT needs competition. They reference the times that LIAT had been exposed to serious competition, like in the days of Caribbean Star/Sun, and point out that those were the best times to travel on LIAT.  Somehow, there were few if any industrial action and LIAT seemed to be more on-time. “Customers mattered back then” is how many people summarise the days of competitions.
From our perspective, LIAT matters. We are strong believers and supporters of competition but until the environment matures to support and foster competition, LIAT is all we have. And let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room; the same thing that hampers competition in the region is the same thing that hampers LIAT – politics. Until we can move beyond the politics that ineffectively seek to “protect” and control LIAT and evolve our air transportation environment into something that invites competition, we will remain exactly where we are.
But don’t worry, we can always look to the sea and hope that some enterprising entrepreneur will launch a ferry service and bring a different type of competition to travel across the region. We shall continue to keep our eyes on the horizon.

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