Foreign Affairs Minister, EP Chet Greene is heralding the resumption of limited commercial flights by LIAT, as a success, not only for Antigua and Barbuda, but for the entire Caribbean region.
“The whole question of the region reopening incrementally for tourism also puts LIAT in a good position in terms of the field of services it provides. There is no region in the world that operates without a regional carrier and the sub-region of the OECS, in particular, has counted on LIAT over the years for its services and to have the carrier back augurs well for sub-regional development,” Minister Greene said.
The Antigua-based carrier officially returned to the skies on Monday, its first commercial flight in eight months. The flight, destined for Barbados, departed the V C Bird International Airport shortly after 8 am.
The carrier was grounded in March when Covid-19 forced border closures across the Caribbean. The situation was further compounded by long-standing financial woes, forcing LIAT into administration.
A rescue plan initiated by Prime Minister Gaston Browne over the past few months, resulted in the resumption of flights with a limited scheduled.
The airline, in the first instance, will service seven destinations, namely Antigua, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, St Lucia, St Kitts, and St Vincent & the Grenadines. A number of other destinations will be added in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, the rescue plan received an injection of US $15 million, sourced through a loan which the Government of Antigua and Barbuda secured from Venezuela’s ALBA Bank last year.
The Chief of Staff in the Office of the Prime Minister, Lionel Hurst explained on Monday that the money was deposited in the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) and so far, $1 million has been used to cover salaries owed to LIAT’s workers for the month of July.
He said the government does not intend to squander the money; however, it will be used in a way to ensure that the airline could turn a profit in the future in order to eventually repay the loan.
Hurst also reiterated the government’s stance that LIAT is regarded as an important part of the regional integration movement.