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History of LIAT (1974) Ltd.

History of LIAT (1974) Ltd.

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Leeward Islands Air Transport Service Limited (LIAT) was founded in October 1956 by aviation pioneer, Mr Frank Delisle. LIAT was then a privately owned one-man operation utilizing a 3-seater Piper Apache and operating a non-scheduled service between Montserrat and Antigua.

In 1957, in response to growing demands for more links within the Caribbean, the routes were expanded to include St Kitts, St Eustatius and St Maarten. The Piper Apache aircraft was then supplemented by a second aircraft, the Beechcraft Twin Bonanza – a six-seater passenger aircraft.{{more}}

As the necessity for services to other areas within the then British West Indies grew it became necessary to formalise an agreement between LIAT and BWIA so that LIAT could begin operation on routes franchised by BWIA. The merger gave BWIA 75 per cent of LIAT’s shares. The staff and airline’s facilities grew rapidly and by 1959 three Twin Bonanzas were added to the aircraft fleet.

The early 1960’s witnessed further expansion with the introduction of two 14 seater De Havilland Herons, together with extended services to Puerto Rico, Trinidad, St Thomas, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Barbados and St Vincent.

By 1970 LIAT extended its scheduled services to 23 islands and increased its fleet to eleven aircraft which included six HS 748 Avros and five Britten Norman Islanders.

Late in 1970 BWIA announced its intention to dispose of its shares in LIAT. Negotiations were initiated in mid-1971 between Courtline Aviation and BWIA. By late 1971 Courtline, UK took over the ownership of LIAT with a changed logo and livery. The takeover witnessed the introduction of jet aircraft equipment, BAC 1-11’s between the islands with services extended to Jamaica between the period of 1972-73.

The year 1974 saw the announcement of Courtline’s liquidation which spelt doom for LIAT. Realizing the major role LIAT played in the economic development of the region a rescue plan was initiated by the Government of Antigua which resulted in eleven Caribbean Government’s purchasing shares to save the airline. The shareholder territories were as follows: Antigua, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, St Kitts/Nevis, Anguilla, St Lucia, St Vincent, Trinidad and Tobago. LIAT (1974) Limited was formed on September 20, 1974 and incorporated under the Companies Act, Chapter 358 of the Laws of Antigua.

During the winter peak period of 1975/76, on-time performance suffered because of unpredictable mechanical breakdowns and tight aircraft scheduling that provided little flexibility to effect repairs and overcome delays. In addition, the burden of maintaining increasingly old aircraft created immense pressure on the airline’s operating costs. Because of limited available funds, the airline was unable to increase seating capacity with the purchase of new aircraft, so based on these circumstances it was decided to refurbish the older aircraft at less expense to the airline.

Although there was growing competition in 1977, and no improvement in Customer Service, LIAT was still forging ahead. In many respects 1977 was a year of improvement. Traffic increased and revenue grew by 34.2 per cent over the previous year. By the close of the decade, it became obvious that LIAT would have to expand if the airline’s earning capacity was to grow and keep up with its increasing costs.

The 1980s witnessed LIAT’s first operating profit of EC$653,000 in a decade in 1982. In 1984-86 saw the delivery of four Twin Otters, four new Super 748’s and five new Dash 8 aircraft. The Dash 8 aircraft acquisition involved securing five aircraft for the price of three aircraft which amounted to substantial benefits and discounts for the airline from the aircraft manufacturers, De Havilland based in Canada.

LIAT entered into various interline agreements with major carriers in the 1990’s to strengthen relationships in order to further sustain tourism development within the region.

However it was during the period of the early 1990’s that the airline was continually being under capitalized which had a serious effect on the airline’s economic situation and as a result of continued losses the shareholder governments agreed to privatize the airline.

During the period of September to May 1994-95, LIAT completed a restructuring programme with a streamlined operation wholly based in Antigua. This effort resulted in a reduction of operational costs, and prepared the company for privatization in an effort to ensure the survival of the airline. With LIAT’s restructuring programme on course, and signs of sustained profitability, this attracted renewed interest from investors throughout the region, despite the presence of competition.

The need to streamline the airline was apparent, which inevitably resulted in a

reduction of staff, improved customer service and an on-time performance of approximately 85 per cent within 15 minutes of the scheduled departure time.

Following the shareholder governments’ decision in May 1996 to privatize LIAT, and the interim management of the airline by the governments of Antigua and Barbuda and Trinidad and Tobago from August 1994 to October 1995, a new board representing private shareholder interests was installed in November 1995 under the Chairmanship of Senator Aziz Hadeed. Notwithstanding the fact that the privatization process was complete, the new Board worked towards heightening LIAT’s firm commitment to efficiency and sufficiency in meeting the air travel needs of the Caribbean region.

It was during this period that the airline concluded a commercial agreement with BWIA which envisaged cost efficiencies by the two airlines, in such areas of reservations, ticketing, check-in connections, fares and flight schedule co-ordination between the two carriers.

With a fleet of 18 De Havilland aircraft, including two newly acquired 50-seater Dash 8-300’s, nine Dash 8-100’s and six Twin Otters, LIAT was virtually serving the entire Caribbean from the Dominican Republic in the northwest to Georgetown, Guyana in the southeast – totaling 26 destinations during this time.

As part of the airline’s continual commitment to customer service, December 1996 witnessed the delivery of the airline’s third De Havilland 50 seater Dash-8 300 series aircraft.

In October 1997 the airline announced the withdrawal from commercial services of its six Twin Otters. Following this announcement, the decision resulted in a renewed commitment to keep LIAT, the Caribbean Airline ahead in customer service by delivering an improved and viable product to the travelling public.

The airline’s pledge of renewed commitment formed part of a new initiative by LIAT to operate a common fleet of Dehavilland Dash 8-100 and 300 aircraft configured to carry 37 and 50 passengers respectively. This has resulted in greater operational flexibility and improved on-time performance.

As the airline charts its course towards the new millennium, LIAT continues to focus on meeting the needs of customers by providing quality service and ensuring the punctuality of its services.

LIAT is a vital link in the economic development of business and commerce by means of providing air transportation for an increasingly mobile population and the expanding of the tourism industry.

Today the carrier boasts some 115 flights a day which equates to a LIAT aircraft taking off or landing every 6 minutes. LIAT employs 450 Caribbean nationals, demonstrating that LIAT truly is, “The Caribbean Airline”, remaining committed to the integration and unity of the Caribbean.

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