New aviation consultant for LIAT to be appointed

St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves says leaders may have a moral – if not a legal – obligation to former LIAT staff
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By Shermain Bique-Charles

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Fresh decisions concerning Caribbean airline LIAT are coming out of the just-concluded Caricom heads of government summit in Suriname – among them the appointment of a consultant and plans for a future meeting among regional leaders.

St Vincent and the Grenadines’ Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves told media at the end of the summit that extensive discussions had been held with the leaders present, including Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne and Barbados’ Mia Mottley, about the future of the troubled carrier.

“A discussion has taken place…We are going to address the issue of a regional air carrier of some kind; it may well be the revival of LIAT in some form or the other, but we have to get a consultant in aviation to put together the framework.

“It is a matter of urgency for us to move on,” Dr Gonsalves said.

The St Vincent PM was given “certain” responsibilities to coordinate the new idea.

“We are going to have a further discussion on the matter at a leadership level sometime between July 20 and 30. I am not sure where the meeting will be held,” he said.

Government heads also “broadly” discussed some residual issues from LIAT (1974) Limited, but Dr Gonsalves said that these talks were inconclusive.

Speaking specifically about the issue of severance owed to hundreds of former LIAT workers across the region, he said, “There are matters in which we do not have any legal obligation, but there may well be a moral obligation for us to address certain things efficaciously, and we will seek to do that in a coordinated way.”

But that news did not go down well with the President of the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association (LIALPA), Patterson Thompson, who is questioning the time lapse.

“So, we went to Suriname two years later and we had a collective meeting on the way forward. Why couldn’t we have had this collective meeting when the airline was shut down?” Patterson questioned in an interview with Observer yesterday.

He also raised questions about the decision to hire an aviation consultant, saying “LIAT has been poked like a lab rat, a guinea pig, a chimpanzee – to bring another consultant is not what we really need at this time.”

LIALPA’s focus, Patterson said, is to get severance for ex-workers, which was previously estimated to be around EC$80 million dollars.

“I have members who are over the edge, and those who have reached the edge. All the workers need their severance,” he added.

The Covid-19 pandemic – which forced airports to shut in early 2020 to control the spread of the virus – exacerbated the airline’s long-standing financial problems. The carrier has been operating a reduced schedule with a downsized workforce since November 2020.

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