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By Orville Williams

Regional airline LIAT is set to resume commercial passenger travel on November 1, with a flight between Antigua and Dominica marking the first since passenger flights were suspended in April.

The seven-month freeze was as a result of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, which forced practically all countries within the region – and most of LIAT’s market – to temporarily close their borders. In an effort to maintain some revenue, however, the airline did facilitate some charter and cargo operations.

After disclosing earlier this month that LIAT would likely resume flights in November, Information Minister Melford Nicholas confirmed the developments in the post-Cabinet media briefing yesterday.

“As of 1st [November], Sunday after next, LIAT will resume its flight operations with an initial flight. I believe it was indicated to us that the initial flight would be between Antigua and Dominica as a first start. That is welcome news and it should coincide with Independence as well, [so] it’s of great symbolic importance.

“They have indicated as well, that beyond the first flight, the regular schedule of operations – even though it’s on a reduced schedule – will commence on the 8th of November. I think this is welcome news for the economies of not only Antigua, but within the OECS as well, for persons to begin to travel,” he said.

The minister also spoke on the positive impact of the sub-regional travel bubble in ensuring the smooth resumption of passenger travel.

“We are also delighted, because there is in existence a travel bubble between the member states of the OECS, which will certainly give LIAT an opportunity to have unfettered travel between these member states and, of course, Barbados as well. So, this augurs well for the resumption of the movement of people and the increase in commerce between our respective member states of the OECS and wider Caricom,” Nicholas added.

Several parties will no doubt be watching this resumption keenly, with LIAT currently dealing with other issues relating to the restructuring of the company. These include debt resolution and, perhaps most topical, employee contract settlements.

Nicholas said, while the majority of the details rest with the LIAT administrator, extensive work is being done toward suitable conclusions.

“From my own understanding, there is significant work being done from a HR standpoint in terms of some of the measures that have to be done. To the best of my understanding, legally, the administrator would have to go back to court to seek the court’s consent to be able to deal with the type of separation and rehiring at different rates.

“All of these issues, where they would have to vitiate existing contracts, these are measures that would have to be done at the level of the administrator and the court,” Nicholas said.

According to the Cabinet, the LIAT administrator has also disclosed that a permit has been granted to LIAT to operate flights to the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

With the return of LIAT’s passenger services to the region’s skies, it remains to be seen how the other carriers who have sought to expand operations during the last few months will be impacted.

The proposed liquidation of LIAT resulted in several carriers stepping up to ‘fill the gap’. These included Air Antilles out of the French Caribbean, Caribbean Airlines from Trinidad and Tobago, InterCaribbean out of the Turks and Caicos Islands, One Caribbean and SVG Air from St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Silver Airways based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

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