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LIAT needs airline doctor says Chairman

LIAT needs airline doctor says Chairman

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LIAT’s chairman Dr. Jean Holder has described newly-appointed Chief Executive Officer of LIAT, Mark Darby, as an “airline doctor.”

“I like to think of him as an airline doctor and I believe LIAT needs an airline doctor…he comes to us very highly recommended,” Holder told members of the regional press in Antigua last Thursday.{{more}}

Darby, who took over as LIAT’s Chief Executive only a week ago will fill the vacancy left by retired CEO Gary Cullen who exited after six years with the airline. Cullen was credited by Holder with stabilising the airline during a period when it came very close to bankruptcy.

But with fresh challenges in the airline industry, Darby, a British veteran hailed as an airline guru with some 26 years of aviation industry experience, will have the burden on his shoulders to take the cash-strapped regional carrier out of the red.

As LIAT’s new CEO, Darby inherits an airline which is $180 million in debt and which has been on the brink of financial disaster, requiring major cash injections from regional governments after losing some US $25 million last year alone.

Darby said he likened his approach to the airline to open heart surgery. “We need to keep the patient alive for as long as possible, but at the same time, we need to make some important improvements to the way the business is run,” he said.

Darby who spent the last five years helping to launch a number of low-cost airlines, mostly in South East Asia, said he would be looking at changing the business focus of LIAT. “We need to change the business from one that is providing us a safe and secure operation to one that is an efficiently marketed and commercial operation,” he said.

“Everything we do will have to stand on its own two feet. There will have to be a good business case for doing things, rather than doing things just because we have always done them,” he added.

Hinting at some major changes to come in the airline’s operations, Darby noted that the next few months would see an improvement in the overall LIAT product.

“There would be some important changes in the way we serve our market in the next few months … my focus with the management would be to deliver a more consistent and reliable product for our client, which would enable us to compete more effectively with the competition in the market place,” Darby added.

LIAT, which has been struggling for years, will also add Barbadian Leesa Parris as Chief Commercial Officer to its new commercial office in Barbados. Parris’ portfolio will allow the “new LIAT” to boost its commercial and marketing activity as the airline re-positions itself as a budget carrier.

According to Parris the launch of the Barbados operation is an indication of change in LIAT’s way of doing business, putting emphasis on commercialisation.

“All initiatives will be driven by market research and market intelligence to guide our decisions moving forward,” she said.

Under the “new LIAT” the airline will be hoping to negotiate with Canada’s Export Development Corporation (EDC), which it owes $80 million, to reach an agreement which will cut that debt at least in half by year’s end.

The airline has been struggling for a number of years having been repeatedly bailed out by regional governments. Within the past two years, governments, including St. Vincent and the Grenadines, have dished out over $50 million to keep the airline in the sky.

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