ST JOHN’S, Antigua – The arrival of the first new 68-seat LIAT ATR 72-600 aircraft at the VC Bird International Airport yesterday was hailed a “game changer” by LIAT Chief Executive Officer Ian Brunton.
Brunton said by updating the fleet, the airline will be able to lower fares, but not before 2015 at least.
“With airlines, the operating costs are really what grab you and the maintenance costs are so high on old airplanes,” he said.
Brunton said the airline won’t see the cost benefits until all old aircraft have been phased out.
The LIAT CEO said for now, the airline was focusing on getting over the “huge transition expense.”
“It’s very expensive but we are preparing for that and we have provisioned for it,” said Brunton.
“We have to get over this hump first before we can even look at bringing down our costs.”
The CEO, however, said consumers need not worry about the airline passing on the transition expense.
“We have to eat those costs; we can’t pass those costs on,” he said.
Brunton began the trip with the aircraft to Antigua from Toulouse France on Friday morning. The journey included stops in the Canary Islands, Cape Verde Islands, Recife in Brazil, and Georgetown in Guyana before it came to Antigua.
Dignitaries welcomed the arrival of the aircraft, which was given a ceremonial washing by two fire engines on arrival and a blessing.
Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer welcomed the arrival as “a very emotional and inspirational day.”
Chairman of the LIAT Board Jean Holder praised the arrival as strengthening the “bridge over the Caribbean Sea” without which he said “regional integration remains a lofty, but unachievable aspiration.”
The French-manufactured ATR is being leased from GE Capital Aviation Services (GECAS).
It is the first of eight ATRs to be introduced into LIAT’s fleet, including, four 68-seat ATR 72-600 and four 48-seat ATR 42-600s.
Brunton said he expects the next aircraft to begin its journey to the region by the end of the month, and that in total, six of the new aircraft are expected this year, with two more to follow in 2014.
LIAT currently has a fleet of 18 Dash-8 aircraft, with 15 that have a seating capacity of 50 and three 37-seater planes.
LIAT, which flies to 21 destinations in the Caribbean, has put a price tag of US $100 million on the re-fleeting exercise and said it is seeking to borrow between US $60 and US $70 million from the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB).
(More in today’s Daily OBSERVER)