Editorial: LIAT again

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Guess what? The heads of government for the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) have met and they have discussed one of our favourite topics, the Leeward Islands Air Transport (LIAT) … again! This time, the news following the meeting indicates that there could be a new shareholder agreement for the regional airline. Other than it being said recently, there is hardly news in any of this.
How many times have we heard that there needs to be more involvement and investment into LIAT by all the stakeholders? It seems to be a sub-topic, like many others related to LIAT that goes nowhere. Those that are not shareholders say that LIAT is not a worthwhile investment at this time or that they do not have the funds, and those that are shareholders point out that the non-shareholder islands get benefits but contribute little to nothing to keep the airline alive. And that is the point.
Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? Unless there is a dramatic change in the thought process surrounding LIAT, that mindset will never change. Plus, it is easy to sit on the outside and throw stones at those charged with making decision to ensure LIAT’s survivability. According to the Prime Minister of St. Lucia, Allen Chastanet, he has conceded that there have been some improvements but said some member states believe that more changes are needed. Specifically, he said, “We have seen some substantial improvements in LIAT, but clearly there are some of us who want to see some other structural changes to LIAT.”
Again, none of this is new. Everyone who recognizes the importance that the airline plays in the region and is interested in the survival of LIAT wants changes to be made, but it is not enough for the non-shareholder governments to criticize from the sidelines. Many hands make light work, so why not roll-up your sleeves, pitch in a few dollars and help?
LIAT is a strange business. Everyone on the outside claims to know what needs to be done, everyone on the inside claims to know what needs to be done, but nothing is being done. The same old issues continue to be rehashed while the finger pointing continues. In any business, if you want change to happen then you need a seat at the table. Very little is accomplished by yelling plays from the sidelines. If you are not part of the decision making team then you are basically creating noise and damaging your vocal cords for nothing.
Here is the thing about business. Nothing will change if a decision to change is not made and communicated. The current management believes that they are on the right track and they are obviously supported by the board and the current shareholder governments. If a non-shareholder government believes that things could improve, then they need to grab themselves a seat at the table and help shape the decisions. A seat may not be cheap at first glance but when weighed against the benefits of better decisions or against the pitfalls of bad decisions, it must be relatively cheap.
Ultimately, if those ‘new and improved’ decisions lead to a profitable airline delivering top-class service, then the investment will pay for itself in no time. Right now, a few shareholders carry the burden for the airline while everyone benefits. Shareholders believe that they are making the best decisions while non-shareholder believe that the airline could be much better. Wouldn’t it be great, if every island that derives a benefit from the air transport that LIAT provides contributed time, expertise and money to make the airline better?
We can already hear some critics saying that increasing the shareholder count will only make a bad situation worse, and there will be too many egos and chiefs to allow effective decision-making. While no one can guarantee that will not happen, we believe that greater support of the airline trumps the possible downsides. Plus, if we remove the politics and a knowledgeable, competent board is allowed to function, then LIAT can more run like a business. And if that were to happen, then we believe that the governments will have an easier time and everyone will reap the rewards. 
Like everyone else, we have our gripes about LIAT. Everything, from the high cost of airfares to the level of service, warrants some criticism, but we should always be mindful that a region with LIAT is better than one without. Having the option of flying LIAT is better than the alternative, unless some private entrepreneur could fill the void and provide lower fares and better service. Like all the talk of LIAT, that concept is not one that we haven’t heard before.
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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