Seems like we all spoke too soon

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Remember all the way back to May 24th when we published a good news story entitled “Pilots call off strike”? Well, it seems like we spoke too soon. And remember, a week later, when the Director of Airports in St Vincent and the Grenadines, Corsel Robertson, commended the LIAT pilots for what she said was a “smart move”, when they opted not to take industrial action? Yeah?  Well, it seems like she spoke too soon as well.
In fact, just about everyone breathed a sigh of relief when we got news that the industrial action was called off following a meeting between the government, LIAT and the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association (LIALPA). We all got back to booking our tickets to travel but then, whamo! What a difference a few days make. An unlucky 13 days to be exact.
LIAT’s most current press release states, “LIAT regrets to advise our passengers that industrial action has been taken today by the members of the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association (LIALPA). In the ongoing negotiations for higher wages, which includes the operation of the ATR aircraft, the pilots have taken action to refuse to fly the ATR 72 aircraft until agreement is reached. As a consequence of this action we have not been able to operate flights scheduled with ATR 72 aircraft at this time. These actions have already resulted in a number of delays and cancellations.”
This latest action came following a rather pessimistic letter from LIALPA’s President Carl Burke, to LIAT’s acting Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mrs Julie Reifer-Jones. According to the pilot’s association, they are no longer willing to wait for the situation to be regularised. Further, it is the organisation’s position that “LIAT’s management continues to demonstrate a pattern of disengagement, lack of good faith, disrespect, and ill will toward the pilot body”. Yikes!
But if you think that is bad, we haven’t even gotten to the pessimistic part yet. The LIALPA president lays the blame for the mess that LIAT is in, squarely at the feet of management, stating “The well-publicised financial troubles … is due to the continued incompetence and mismanagement by the LIAT management and is in no way linked to the pilots.” In the same matter-of-fact way he starts this particular paragraph, he concludes it by saying, “Therefore, not even all the Kings horses or all the Kings men and the intervention of the Shareholder Task Force could save LIAT from this fatal descent.”
Okay! We are pretty sure that when people in the aviation world, and pilots in particular, describe something as being in a “fatal descent” it is not a good thing. Mr Burke did not attempt to dress up this pig in any way. He did not pretty-up the situation by saying that the company “seems to be” or “may be” in a fatal descent.  Mr Burke spoke with a great deal of finality.
This got us to thinking. If LIAT cannot meet the demands of the pilots and the pilots refuse to work until those demands are met, then where are we going? Further, if the pilots believe that the airline is in a “fatal descent” then what is everyone fighting about? Is it simply to get what can be gotten while the airline limps along to the eventual splat?
To be honest, we are getting weary of writing about LIAT. That is a sad statement for us to write and to read because there is so much potential, but year, after year, after year, we continue to be witness to infighting, political manoeuvring and finger pointing; all to the detriment of LIAT’s survival. The crazy thing is, everyone seems to know what is wrong with LIAT but for some unknown reason, no one can fix it. What makes LIAT so unique?
This latest situation looks bad for both sides. We are sure that the public relations machinery will be out in force to try to ensure that their side looks best but from our vantage point, the public is beyond that. The travellers are especially frustrated, having to endure yet another announcement that begins “LIAT regrets to inform you” and ends with either a delay or cancellation. Those announcements have become so frequent that they sound robotic and fail to deliver even a morsel of empathy for the customers who have been inconvenienced.
It is hard to believe that it was just a week ago that we all breathed a sigh of relief and the Vincentian Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves and his airport director praised the pilots, with the latter saying, “They made a good choice because it would have been mayhem across the region.” Today, that mayhem is upon us!
The pilots have decided that they are unwilling to wait until August for the report from the technical task force, set up to review the LIAT situation and to provide a basis on which to decide on the way forward for LIAT. According to LIALPA, they have waited long enough.
Picking a side in this one is a futile exercise because we are all in the same “fatal descent” without parachutes. As with every situation, there will be some that will gently land on their feet but for the majority, this will be an epic crash. And with such doom surrounding LIAT, we will ask the never-ending question:  What next for LIAT?
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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