Regional: Former LIAT chairman makes impassioned plea to keep regional carrier in the air

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(Barbados Today) — Outgoing chairman of LIAT Dr Jean Holder is urging shareholder governments of the cash-strapped airline not to allow the carrier, which is critical to regional travel, to close its doors.

He made the plea for the sake of the people of the Caribbean, as he expressed his love for the airline during his retirement function at Illaro Court on Monday evening.

The 84-year-old pointed out that several airlines which were around when he joined LIAT 16 years ago had since gone out of business. And he prayed that LIAT, which he said had made a phenomenal contribution to the socio-economic life of the region, would remain in operation, because “it means so much to our present and future development”.

The distinguished Barbadian who has written several books on the history of LIAT said he was happy that former Barbados Prime Minister Owen Arthur, whom he described as a significant figure in the region, was taking over the mantle as Chairman.

“LIAT was a pleasure to work for. I want to thank the staff of LIAT for their contribution over the years and I pray that LIAT will be kept going, whatever the challenges,” Dr Holder said.

He said his time spent at the airline was the culmination of 60 years in the public service during which he worked in the diplomatic corps and the tourism industry.

Delivering remarks at the function, Prime Minister Mia Mottley announced that in about six weeks’ time, the Hospitality Institute of the Barbados Community College (BCC) would be renamed in honour of Holder and his late wife, and would be called the Jean and Norma Holder Institute of Hospitality Studies.

“Both of you have had a long and distinguished career. In your case, tourism and public service, and in her case education, but spanning the creation of that Hospitality Institute which has now been responsible for, I dare say, thousands of Barbadians who have passed through it over the course of its life, and will continue to play that role,” Mottley said.

The Prime Minister, whose government is LIAT’s largest shareholder, thanked Holder for the significant role he played in ensuring that the airline remained in the air even when it faced financial hardships.

Mottley said while at times there were clouds that would have prevented the planes from taking off, through skilful navigation, Holder had been able to have the planes move off the tarmac and fly to their respective destinations.

“I believe that the love affair with the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) is because they more than any other entity of the region depend on LIAT. And to that extent, they have a duty to help you and have helped you ably in this mission along the way,” Prime Minister Mottley said.

The CDB has been a key funder of LIAT.

Meanwhile, the incoming LIAT Chairman indicated that his predecessor had left him with a five-year development plan for the airline which he would be presenting to the shareholder governments soon.

Arthur told Holder that he would be tapping into his wisdom about the airline.

“I want to thank you, not just on behalf of the staff of LIAT but on behalf of the people of the Caribbean, because without LIAT there could have been no Caribbean Community. And I trust that you will come to be remembered as one of the great architects of our Caribbean civilization,” he said.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne said Holder held the airline under difficult circumstances and was owed a debt of gratitude for keeping Caribbean people connected.

He said while many were aware that effective integration was not possible without connectivity, Holder headed LIAT during years of tension and when the survivability of the airline was put to the test.

However, Browne stressed that Holder’s contribution was not limited to LIAT, noting that he had played a major role in the development of Barbados and the region, serving as the Secretary General of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) of which he was a founding member.

“So it is evident that he has a significant amount of skills and he was able to utilize his talents for the benefit of the Caribbean people. And I want to take this opportunity to congratulate you, Sir, on behalf of the people of Antigua and Barbuda,” he said.

Chairman of LIAT’s shareholder governments, Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines Dr Ralph Gonsalves thanked Dr Holder for his remarkable contribution to the Caribbean and urged him to continue writing chapters about the airline.

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