By Kadeem Joseph
The flight plan for ailing airline LIAT seems clearer, with Prime Minister Gaston Browne projecting that the carrier will be back in the skies within months.
Speaking during an Observer AM interview on Tuesday, Browne said the hopes are that the airline will officially take off once again “within 60 to 90 days”.
The prime minister made the projection on the heels of a meeting with Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados on Monday.
The leaders represent the states with the largest shareholding in the company.
Although there was a rocky lead up to the meeting, Browne said that “it went very well”, and despite “certain pre-existing notions and some firm positions”, the heads were able to come to a consensus on the way forward.
Among the measures agreed to, according to Browne, is to sell three aircraft that LIAT owns to reduce the carrier’s debts.
The shareholder governments will continue to pay the residual balance to the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) over time. The CDB had not only provided a loan for the re-fleeting process of the airline, but has also lent various sums of money to support LIAT over the years.
“After the aircraft would have been sold and the proceeds applied, I believe that there will be a shortfall of about US$45 million, which would be shared proportionally by the shareholder governments and obviously we will have to service those loans until they are retired,” he added.
Browne said Antigua and Barbuda will be moving to employ the services of an administrator “almost immediately” under the 2020 Companies Amendment Act, who would then be expected to present a reorganisation plan for the ailing carrier in court “within weeks”.
Wilbur Harrigan, of Panel Kerr Foster (PFK) Leeward Islands, and Cleveland Seaforth, of BDO Antigua and Barbuda, are among the individuals being considered for the position of administrator.
The conclusion of this process, according to the head of the twin island state, would give the green light to negotiations with creditors “to bring the assets and liabilities into some form of balance” and the creation of an operational plan that would govern a new “lean” airline.
He said if the plan is not successful, the company will still have to go through the process of liquidation.
Barbados and St Vincent and the Grenadines have also agreed to sell their present shares in the airline to Antigua and Barbuda for $1 each.
Browne, however, reminded that the LIAT 2020 plan still had some turbulence to manoeuvre, warning that, “our challenges have just begun”.
“Raising the capital and keeping LIAT alive is far more challenging than the little battle that we had there to get St Vincent and the Grenadines and Barbados to surrender shares so that we could move forward,” he added.
The prime minister also thanked PM Gonsalves and PM Mottley, noting that they “remain sustaining allies at the vanguard of Caribbean integration”.
He also thanked members of the public for their support.
Browne said in spite of the foreseeable challenges, “we are not daunted … and we feel confident that we will be able to raise the necessary capital so that we can put LIAT back in the air to have it flying and to restore LIAT to profitability and sustainability”.