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LIAT must get its act together


There seems to be no end to the woes facing the regional airline, LIAT, and no end to the tribulations heaped upon hapless travellers in the region as a result. The constant succession of problems facing the airline continues to cause major inconveniences to customers and precious productive hours lost to the countries which LIAT serves.{{more}}

The latest major misfortune has been the resignation of the company’s CEO David Evans. Evans, with extensive experience in the airline industry globally, having been a former executive of British Airways, was recruited precisely to bring his expertise to bear in shoring up the troubled airline.

But he suddenly resigned last week, making it two CEOs and three acting CEOs for LIAT in the last seven years. He did not disclose the reasons for his resignation, but a radio station in Antigua and Barbuda, LIAT’s home base, speculated that it had something to do with complaints by Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, over the level of service to his country by the airline.

The Dominican prime minister is reported to have chastised LIAT for the “shabby manner” in which Dominican passengers are treated. He allegedly berated LIAT for making Dominican passengers go through tortuous and circuitous routes to get in and out of his island. There is no south-bound flight out of Dominica, he noted; thus, passengers must go north, to Antigua, before travelling south.

Vincentians will fully understand his frustrations, for we too face such flight problems, sometimes having to go to Trinidad en route to neighbouring Grenada, while the early morning flight to Barbados, the so-called “embassy flight”, now must go via Grenada. In addition, there have been cancellations of the late night flight to Barbados, causing inconvenience for those with early next day appointments.

Those cancellations have been blamed by one board member, Antiguan Lennox Weston, on the actions of LIAT pilots. Weston told the ANTIGUA OBSERVER newspaper that pilots are responsible for 75 per cent of the more than 100 LIAT cancellations in the first three months of this year. He said that there was an “abnormally high rate of sickness among (LIAT) pilots, a level he described as being “higher than any other place in the world”. Air hostesses and “other employees” were also involved, said Weston, noting that this undermines the profitability of the airline and “cannot continue”.

These problems constitute a major public relations disaster for LIAT and pressure is mounting in all quarters for them to be addressed. There is also in-fighting among shareholders, with Barbados pressing for LIAT’s base to be shifted there from Antigua and Barbuda, while that country in turn has stated that it wants to become the major shareholder, and its Prime Minister, Gaston Browne is adamant that LIAT will continue to have its headquarters in his country.

In the meantime, LIAT’s bottom line suffers, passengers are frustrated, tens of thousands of productive hours are wasted in airports and LIAT’s other two shareholder states, Dominica and SVG are hindered in their development efforts. Both still lack international airports and are heavily dependent on LIAT. Urgent and decisive action is needed.