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Caribbean Islands and travelers dearly missing LIAT

While Governments and travelers alike always had a love-hate relationship with LIAT, the airline is now dearly missed on many inter-island routes.

Various islands in the Caribbean region say they are dearly missing LIAT. The carrier, previously owned by multiple Caribbean governments and with home base the island of Antigua, went through a controlled bankruptcy in 2020 after  many years of financial challenges, and what some describe as mismanagement.

LIAT stands for Leeward Islands Air Transport Services. The inter-Caribbean Airline was founded in the year 1956. The airline was burdened with debt for almost its entire existence. Although based in Antigua, at one point, as many as 11 Caribbean islands were shareholders in the company, making for an almost impossible management structure.

Cussing LIAT, often jokingly referred to as Leave Island Any Time, was a favorite pastime not only of the islands involved, but also of the passengers who depended on the airline.

Collapse

When LIAT had to be saved from collapse for the umpteenth time in the year 2020, almost all shareholders pulled out and refused to come to its rescue. Prime Minister of St. Vincent & The Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves, in particular, spoke very negatively about LIAT, which he described as among others as ‘bottomless pit’ and ‘poorly run’. The Government of Barbados, represented by Mia Mottley, also did not lift a finger to save the carrier.

That led to a situation where Antigua & Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Brown found himself almost alone in his efforts to the rescue of carrier. It was not surprising that Antigua & Barbuda emerged as a potential savior, because the twin-island state had the most to lose as its home base. Although it helped LIAT to restart with the help of the Court-appointed trustee, with three planes – one of which is said to be currently operational – LIAT is now only a shadow of its former self.

Missing

What no one could have suspected is that just two years later various Caribbean Governments, but also the inhabitants of those islands, are increasingly missing the presence of LIAT. While it was initially expected that remaining carriers such as InterCaribbean Airways, Air Antilles and Winair would fill the void left by LIAT, this has only very partially turned out to be the case. Moreover, the costs for tickets appear to have increased enormously, if the routes are flown at all.

St. Lucia’s tourism minister, Dr. Ernest Hilaire, has been one of the most outspoken about LIAT’s demise and also one of the biggest proponents of having the carrier get back to its former level. “Yes, we must all agree that LIAT was not the best example of a well-run, well-managed Company. There are a lot of criticisms of LIAT, but we have had experiences over decades that when others came, promised a lot and failed to deliver, we always had to go back and relay on LIAT with all its deficiencies”.  Hilaire told the St. Lucia Times.

The minister points out that although international air traffic on the island has already recovered about eighty percent of the damage caused by the COVID pandemic, this is by no means the case for regional flights. “In fact, we now have no regional flights at all, whereas in the past regional passengers accounted for about 70% of all arriving passengers on the island,” said Hilaire.

Regret

The greater Barbados now also seems to regret its earlier unwillingness to support the airline. Local media report that the Mottley government is now looking for third parties to set up and maintain certain flight routes in the region. Meanwhile, more and more voices are heard supporting the idea for regional Governments to put themselves behind LIAT once again, even though many of them had vowed to never again put a single penny into the airline.

Hilaire says he is going to make a case for his own government to see how LIAT can lend a helping hand. “ I can tell you, as the Minister also responsible for Creative Industries and organizing of Carnival, we’re missing it. We are doing very well, but a lot of the visitors we have that are going to be coming in are coming from the international markets and nowt so many from the regional markets”, Hilaire explained. 

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