LIAT boss accuses critics of double standards

ST JOHN’S, Antigua – LIAT Chairman Dr Jean Holder has slammed critics, including regional governments, he accused of double standards when it comes to paying subsidies to airlines.

Speaking at a recent press conference, Dr Holder said, “I remember when countries in this region were paying American Airlines about US $1 million a year to fly into these countries. The countries did not complain. They were rushing to give American Airlines the million dollars. I, as the secretary general of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation, was very much a part of those discussions.”

The chairman said despite “constant” bashing about its services, LIAT has, for years, been operating non-profitable flights to countries that do not pump a penny into the airline.

On Friday, the undercapitalised carrier announced it would be cutting 39 flights it deems uneconomic and this would affect 18 of the 21 countries LIAT serves.

However, the airline said that flights, and not nations, are to be dropped. The carrier has long been calling on regional governments to offer financial support to at least cover the cost of the 100 daily flights it provides.

Speaking on the matter, Dr Holder said, “LIAT is not making any demands that are not being made by all the other carriers. Everyone is critical of LIAT’s efficiency, but any attempt that LIAT makes to change the status quo and to operate as a commercial carrier, we get all kinds of criticisms.

“This situation can not continue, especially when only three of the 21 destinations served by LIAT come to its aid when it is in financial difficulties.”

Following the June 10 fire at its Antigua-based hangar, that cost the company $35 million in insured losses, Dominica pledged to lend $8 million while one of the three major shareholders, St Vincent & the Grenadines, set aside $3.8 million towards LIAT’s plan to purchase new aircraft.

The other two major shareholding governments are Antigua & Barbuda and Barbados.

Over the past three years, LIAT recorded over $90 million in losses, excluding the $35 million that went up in flames in June.

(More in today’s Daily OBSERVER)