ST JOHN’S, Antigua – Faced with worsening delays across the region and battling industrial action in two countries this week, LIAT is now facing the reality that one of its brand new ATR aircraft will be out of commission for the week.
OBSERVER media understands that on Sunday LIAT requested a rental engine, for a downed ATR in Barbados, from the Canadian branch of US based aerospace manufacturer Pratt & Whitney.
The engine is ready for delivery, but up to press time the airline was still rushing to complete paperwork.
Adding to the difficulties facing the Antigua based airline is a scathing open letter penned by a prominent Dominican hotelier and a call for an urgent meeting from the Antigua Workers’ Union (AWU).
“We need some answers as to what is happening that has caused LIAT to go into this time, that is one of its highest peaks for revenue that we have had so much problems over the last few days,” General Secretary of the AWU Senator David Massiah said.
The AWU wants an urgent meeting of all LIAT affiliated trade unions, management and the executive.
On Saturday, as ground workers downed tools in Dominica, at least two LIAT flights which were due to stop in the Nature Isle; one from Puerto Rico and one from Antigua, bypassed the island.
The flights both headed straight to Barbados where affected passengers stayed in hotels overnight.
On Monday, at least 200 passengers were temporarily stranded when LIAT ground workers in Barbados temporarily downed tools at the Grantley Adams International Airport.
Reports indicate that the counter staffs who deal with LIAT passengers, but are contracted through a handling company, said they were frustrated over what they said was abuse from passengers.
Barbados Workers Union representative Dwayne Powell, who met with LIAT employees, said they had been instructed to go back to work pending a meeting with the airline’s management.
The entire LIAT network has been plagued by delays as a result of the worker unrest combined with the difficulty LIAT continues to face in its re-fleeting process and what unions have said is a shortage of pilots given the number of pilots that have been required to take time off to train to fly the new ATR’s.
Prominent Dominican hotelier Gregor Nassief, who owns the Secret Bay and is Executive Chairman of the Fort Young Hotel, in an open letter listed over 20 incidents, including major delays or cancellations with LIAT, that have affected guests at his resort in the past eight weeks.
The flights mentioned include cancellations and delays of between two hours to 11 hours on LIAT flights between June 15 and August 11.
In one case he notes a flight was cancelled for three successive days, while in other cases passengers missed connecting international flights including one to London.
Nassief requests in the letter that “heads must roll” and that “the board of directors to enforce significant change in the executive ranks.”
On July 24, LIAT was forced to issue an apology for major disruptions in the skies.
A press statement at the time quoted Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of LIAT Ian Brunton as saying the disruptions were caused by a combination of factors and that the airline was taking “urgent and decisive” steps to address its issues.
“These include, among other things, an increase in unscheduled maintenance at a time when our schedule calls for maximum aircraft availability; crew shortages; bad weather; airport limitations; and delays in obtaining licences for operating our new ATR aircraft in some territories,” Brunton reportedly said.
It was also late last month that Brunton confirmed the airline had enlisted contract crews to fly LIAT’s Dash-8 aircraft. It followed such demands from LIAT pilots who had threatened to disrupt flights after being angered by demanding and “illegal” flight schedules.
Six of the new aircraft are expected this year, with two more to follow in 2014.
LIAT is replacing a fleet of 18 Dash-8 aircraft, including 15 that have a seating capacity of 50 and three 37-seater planes, with the ATR aircraft.
LIAT, which flies to 21 destinations in the Caribbean, has put a price tag of US $100 million on the re-fleeting exercise.
(More in today’s Daily OBSERVER)