St Kitts and Nevis (WINN): Barbados Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has pledged his country’s continued commitment to regional airline LIAT.
The Barbadian leader has described LIAT as “vital” to the movement of people across the Caribbean.
Stuart’s pledge came after concerns voiced by some CARICOM leaders about the viability of the regional carrier during the just concluded 38th CARICOM Conference of Heads of Government in Grenada.
Vincentian Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has meanwhile been calling for more investment on the part of CARICOM governments in the Antigua-based carrier.
A former St Kitts and Nevis tourism minister, Dwyer Astaphan is not supportive of that appeal.
“I would think three times before calling upon my taxpayers to put money in an organization that has the problems that LIAT has and that the owner governments, particularly one or two or particularly one, are seeking local political interest promotion over the overall picture. Where are you gonna get more money to buy more planes and higher more people? How does that translate into fares? Yes there are routes that are not as busy and lucrative as others but I am sure somebody has crunched numbers have the public discussion, have the discussion publicly, let everybody see the numbers, there is brain power in the region and there is brain power of the region that can maybe produce some answers and then let the governments face a kind of clinical analysis presented by people in the communities of these islands who are not looking to get elected or re-elected.”
LIAT is also being criticized by a Kittitian national unhappy with one of the airline’s recent decisions.
“Personally I don’t feel that all governments in the Caribbean should invest in LIAT, reason being, the other governments who are investing in LIAT they put a lot of money into LIAT, why doesn’t LIAT operate a best airline model that sells to us the traveling public the best service? If the service is such that Kittitians, Nevisians, Antiguans, all the islands in the Caribbean want to go to different places, they are on time, schedules are not missed as they normally do, we’ll get to where we are going. Over the years LIAT has to me dropped the ball. Kittitians, Nevisians are persons who travel basically to the U.S. Virgin Islands and that service over the years has been scarce to say the least. Imaging LIAT is pulling out of the Virgin Islands which is a main linkage between us in the Caribbean especially Kittitians and Nevisians. There are thousands of persons living in the Virgin Islands who travel backward and forward daily but what does LIAT do they pull out.”
Antigua Prime Minister Gaston Browne argues that other Caribbean governments should invest in financially troubled airline. he pointed out that "LIAT needs more planes, it need more pilots, the staff needs an increase the airline is struggling to pay its debts.”
However Dwyer Astaphan says a bigger priority should be addressing the issue of what’s described as an overstaffed LIAT.
“What is the staff compliment of LIAT, and how much of that staff compliment are in Barbados or Antigua? How many of those in Antigua or Barbados are absolutely necessary for the efficient operation of the airline? That is one of the first analyses that has to be done. Putting on more planes, hiring more people that will increase the cost, that will not help the fares to go down and it is the size of the fares that is one of the reasons that the airline is hurting and again the size of the fares is affected by government taxes.”
Grenada’s Keith Mitchell at the recently concluded CARICOM Summit, told his colleagues that action must be taken to reduce the high cost of air travel in the region.
“As an integral aspect of our approach in addressing the issue of air connectivity it must include reducing the cost of air travel to rejuvenate intra-regional travel. It would represent a significant installment to the regional integration account if heads would collectively agree to reduce airline ticket taxes as well as other fees which attach to the cost of intra-regional air travel.”