By Orville Williams
Sustained efforts from Prime Minister Gaston Browne to revitalise regional carrier LIAT, received a timely boost in the past couple of days with a declaration of support from Grenadian Prime Minister, Dickon Mitchell.
“It’s difficult for me to see why our previous administration did not see the need to support LIAT. I mean, now that we don’t have it, I think we really understand the crucial role that LIAT played in regional travel, regional integration, fostering closer ties, and economic and cultural development, certainly within the OECS”, Mitchell declared during an interview with Good Morning Saint Lucia late last week.
“So, I’m certainly committed [and] my government is committed to doing all that we can to support LIAT or any other version of LIAT that can provide the services that we so desperately need for regional travel.”
Since LIAT was forced to temporarily shutter operations back in 2020, PM Browne has been on a campaign to return the airline, albeit with a slightly different name, to its former glory days.
He has been lobbying LIAT’s fellow shareholder governments – Barbados, Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines – to support his vision to restructure the airline and keep it flying, rather than to liquidate it.
Just last month, the government revealed that a proposal is on the table for LIAT’s expansion, with several operational changes intended to make the carrier more efficient. These include applying minimum revenue guarantees, maintaining a reduced fleet of aircraft, and keeping “salaries, wages and other emoluments” low.
Those plans could form part of the wider subregional discussions on air transport which, according to Mitchell, could come to fruition in a matter of months.
“I’m happy to indicate that, in fact, while in St Lucia [recently], OECS Heads would have had a caucus and we recommitted to redoubling our efforts to address the issue of regional air transportation.
“We have a follow-up call with the Caribbean Development Bank for the second of August, and so we really are hoping that by the end of the year, we can come to our citizens with concrete proposals as to how we intend to address this issue,” Mitchell said.
The lawyer-turned-politician also voiced his willingness to reduce the cost of air travel into his country – a move that could inspire countries similarly dependent on tourism, particularly in the context of a vulnerable international market.
“In the case of Grenada, we subsidise international travel. We subsidise American Airlines, we subsidise British Airways to come to Grenada, and so I make bold by saying I have no hesitation in subsidising regional air travel to and from Grenada.
“It’s very important to us as a people, as we try and build our Caribbean civilization, [and] it’s very important to our tourism in Grenada,” the PM added.
As Mitchell mentioned, regional leaders were scheduled to meet with the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) yesterday, to further talks on the way forward for regional transportation.