The administration of the inter-regional airline, LIAT (1974), and LIAT (2020) Limited are negotiating terms for the sale of the insolvent airline’s assets, according to the government of Antigua and Barbuda.
The press in the English-speaking Caribbean has reported stories suggesting that LIAT is a crucial development partner in the Caribbean and needs to be revived, according to a statement released after Thursday’s Cabinet meeting. “Other states have been pursuing establishing another airline that wouldn’t compete on LIAT’s Routes; however, LIAT (2020) is more than a year ahead in its planning to replace LIAT (1974) Ltd. and is likely to outperform the competitors.”
The main shareholder in LIAT (2020) is the Antigua and Barbuda government, which has already indicated that it is prepared to invest between US$15-20 million in the new venture. The statement issued after the Cabinet meeting noted that the new airline “will have a total of six planes and would’ve already secured the Air Operating Certificate (AOC)”.
The statement said also that the Cabinet had invited to its meeting the Development Commissioner, who has been assigned the responsibility of negotiating the terms of the final agreement between LIAT (2020) Ltd. and the principals of Air Peace, a private Nigerian airline founded in 2013, “for the purpose of establishing a governing agreement between both carriers”.
The announcement comes as St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves Tuesday said he had received a document from the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) outlining a proposal for the financing and operation of a regional airline.
Gonsalves told a news conference in Kingstown that the initial owners of the airline could be the governments of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) “but we would have to engage the Caribbean Development Bank on this exercise too.
The OECS groups the islands of Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Kitts-Nevis, Montserrat, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands.
Gonsalves said that while the location for a headquarters for the airline hasn’t been discussed, he was “offering” St. Vincent and the Grenadines as one of the options.
Speaking at a post-cabinet news conference, Information Minister Melford Nicholas told reporters that plans to establish a new regional airline showed exactly where Gonsalves “stood all along”.
He said Gonsalves wants to improve the traffic coming into the international airport in his country by starting a new airline that will serve the Windward islands, namely Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada with a sub-regional hub in Kingstown.
Nicholas said that despite financial assistance from the sub-regional countries, St. John’s is moving to ensure that LIAT (2020) becomes operational and will not be distracted .
The announcement by the Antiguan government comes even as the Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union (ABWU) said it wants the court-appointed administrator Cleveland Seaforth, to provide the public with an update on the future direction of the company.
ABWU general secretary, David Massiah, said efforts are continuing to secure severance payments for the employees of the airline that entered into administration in July 2020 following increased debt and the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The airline is owned by the governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines, and while the Barbados and St. Lucia governments have made available funds to cover the three-year outstanding debt to the workers in their countries, that has not been the case with employees in the other islands.
“it is troubling to us in the Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union that we continue to call on the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda (Gaston Browne) to ensure that Seaforth, the LIAT administrator, at least declare to the public on the yielding of his administration over the last three years.
“The administrator, at least declare to the general public on the yielding of his administration that has gone over three years (and) …that was supposed to take 120 days.
“And so we denounce this sort of silence or dismissal by the government and the administrator that to date we have not been in a position to receive some sort of understanding as to how things can be moving forward”.
The union official said he was calling on Seaforth “to clearly disclose to us what are the what are the situations, where we are, so people have an understanding because the people of LIAT that have been working are entitled to their rights, their severance are protected by international convention”.