By Theresa Goodwin
The resuscitation of Antigua-based airline LIAT requires an implementation plan and not necessarily the hiring of experts to look at the issue.
That’s the view of Foreign Affairs Minister Chet Greene in response to the decision by regional leaders to hire a consultant to conduct an in-depth study into the carrier as they look to address the gaps affecting intra-regional travel.
St Vincent and the Grenadines’ Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said on Tuesday that several leaders, including Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne and Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley, had agreed to seriously consider fully reviving the island-hopping carrier.
“We have lost thousands of seats because LIAT, as it was, is no longer before us. We didn’t realise it when Covid was on, but after Covid has receded somewhat and people are travelling again, we see the problem,” said Gonsalves, whose government is a shareholder in LIAT.
“The discussion has taken place between the Prime Ministers of Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados, and Guyana. We have taken the decision, on the margins, for the establishment of a regional airline.
“It may very well be the revival of LIAT in some form,” Gonsalves told reporters at the closing press conference of the Caricom heads of government meeting in Suriname.
Greene said he applauds his regional colleagues who acknowledged the importance of the carrier to the region, but noted that Antigua has already set the foundation for its survival, and all that is needed is the concretisation of those plans.
“I am no aviation expert, but I think common sense tells me that the fact that it exists, has existed [is a positive]. LIAT had more studies than most airlines in the world, so it is a question of looking at where we are and what needs to be done and making a pragmatic decision as to how to keep LIAT in the skies.
“I think Antiguans and Barbudans have every reason to feel proud of the level of leadership that this country has brought to this process where LIAT is concerned,” Greene said.
The Covid pandemic – which forced airports to shut in early 2020 to control the spread of the virus – exacerbated the airline’s long-standing financial problems. The carrier has been operating a reduced schedule with a downsized workforce since November 2020 following a rescue plan by the Antigua and Barbuda government.
Minister Greene was speaking during an interview following his return to the country from the meeting in Suriname.
He also provided a detailed report on some of the engagements he was involved in, which he said will produce benefits for Antiguan and Barbudan students among others.
These include scholarships and short course opportunities for local people in a number of areas.
“The courses are being circulated to the relevant ministries. So, courses in water management have been submitted to APUA, those for health to that ministry, foreign affairs and others,” Greene added.
Talks were also held on the topic of trade relations and the possibility of direct trade between Africa and the Caribbean.