Editorial: LIAT – no one is laughing any more

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Isn’t anyone going to intervene with this dysfunctional mess called LIAT?  Really, this is turning into a really bad joke and no one is laughing.  One cannot even muster a chuckle by referring to the acronym LIAT being an abbreviation for: “Leave Island Any Time”; “Luggage In Another Town”; or “Late, If Ah Tal”.  Talk about LIAT and people just suck their teeth and dismiss the discussion with disgust.
The latest bit of bacchanal surrounds the new flight schedule.  The union representing the pilots is disappointed with the new flight schedule, stating it does nothing to relieve pressure on pilots. The President of the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association (LIALPA), Captain Carl Burke, said he is more than skeptical of the new flight schedule adding that in his opinion, the new schedule has introduced a new problem for pilots and the airline.
According to Burke, “We are seeing an increase in overnight which is going to be an increase in cost ….  What is happening is, that in order for them to operate the schedule, they are moving them [pilots] from Antigua and have them overnight in Barbados which makes no sense.”  The captain also said, it would mean more time away from base for pilots.
In contrast, LIAT’s management has promised better summer services after implementing the new flight schedule.  LIAT’s acting Chief Executive Officer Julie Reifer-Jones earlier said the new schedule was drafted with the pilots in mind. She said, “There are some significant changes in it, in terms of trying to improve on the reliability of the schedule,” adding that ground-time in certain areas has been increased to address the issues affecting the staff.
Help us here.  The acting CEO says that the flight schedule was drafted with the pilots in mind and the pilots say that the schedule makes no sense.  How can that be?  We are not taking sides here but how can you draft with the pilots in mind and receive that kind of reaction from the pilots?  There is an obvious and massive disconnect that no one wants to acknowledge.
One pilots said that it was obvious that they (the management) had the pilots in mind when they devised the new schedule but the problem, he states, is that the management only has “bad mind” towards the pilots, and he says that the new schedule is clear evidence of that.
This seems to be one of those moments that should be viewed as an ideal opportunity for the shareholder governments to assess the effectiveness of the management and the grievances of the pilots.  We cannot say that this is a black and white issue but it appears that an assessment of the new schedule by an outside, independent consultant will easily and quickly evaluate whether the pilots have a legitimate beef or whether management has been prudent in the design of the new schedule.
It would be irresponsible for the shareholder government to allow this situation to continue without immediate intervention.  LIAT is losing market share and customer confidence and without those two things, it might as well close its doors.  This is a business that is supported by the taxpayers and it cannot continue to be run as a “flying dolly house”, as we have referred to it before
The new schedule goes beyond pilot issues as LIAT has also announced that it has dropped some unprofitable routes such as St Thomas, St Croix and San Juan. According to LIAT’s Chief Commercial Officer (CCO) Lloyd Carswell, the routes were being flown just to maintain regional connectivity.  But isn’t that LIAT’s reason for being?  Doesn’t LIAT refer to itself as “The Caribbean Airline”?  And by adopting and promoting that tag, isn’t regional connectivity a big part of it?
And while LIAT drops these “unprofitable routes”, others are quick to step in.  Recently, Seaborne Airlines announced that they will resume flights from Puerto Rico to Antigua in the near future.  What makes the route profitable for Seaborne and not LIAT. This is an especially important question when you consider that Seaborne flies older, less efficient Saab 340 aircraft than the supposedly superior and considerably newer ATRs flown by LIAT.   Interestingly, Seaborn’s slogan is “Bringing the Caribbean Closer” and they operate in the exact destinations that LIAT just abandoned – just thought that was worth mentioning.
Right now, the trend is extremely worrying – LIAT shrinks and its competition expands. Unless that trend is halted and/or reversed, that negative trend line will eventually reach the bottom and one has to wonder if this not a one-way ticket to that “fatal descent” that Captain Burke described?

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