ST JOHN’S, Antigua (CMC) — The Antigua and Barbuda government Thursday said it would “resist’ any collapse of the cash-strapped regional airline, LIAT, and that it has developed a “strategic approach” which will be further discussed in Barbados at month end.
Prime Minister Gaston Browne said that Cabinet had discussed the impending meetings of LIAT’s shareholders and directors to be held in Barbados next Tuesday.
“The Cabinet again reiterated the importance of the regional carrier to regional integration, connecting people and goods and services. The Cabinet pledged to resist any collapse of LIAT and any move to re-create its replacement,” Browne posted on his official Facebook page.
Antigua and Barbuda is one of four shareholder governments of the island. The others are Barbados, Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The meeting in Barbados comes amidst concerns of a worsening money problem for the Antigua-based airline that could probably lead to it being grounded.
St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, earlier this month said that the regional carrier may be forced to close its operations after Caribbean governments appear reluctant to provide the necessary cash injection need to keep the airline flying.
Speaking on a Grenada Broadcasting Network (GBN) programme, Gonsalves said only Grenada so far had responded positively to the call for US$5.4 million to help the airline deal with its current financial problems.
Three of the aircraft are owned by the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) that provided the funds to the regional government shareholders to purchase them while the seven others are leased.
“We probably will have to ask the CDB to sell those three aircraft and operate seven of them and then get other smaller airline like One Caribbean to fly between here and St Lucia, rather than get LIAT to fly on one of the routes which is going to Trinidad which is not economical to cut it.
“The governments have not been responding so the shareholders are reaching a critical point now and if you ask me, what is likely to happen … there will be a transitional restructuring leading to a closure of LIAT,” Gonsalves told the GBN programme, adding that a new airline would then have to be the next option for the region if LIAT is closed.
Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, while she did not name the airline by name, said last week that she was looking towards securing financial assistance from the European Investment Bank (EIB) for the regional transportation sector.
“The EIB doesn’t only lend to the government, it also lends to private companies like the Barbados Light and Power in the past and it has also engaged here with not just national projects but also regional projects.
“And as the lead prime minister for the single market and single economy, I also had to engage in discussions with them on opportunities within the transport sector in particular, with respect to the EIB and its role in the region,” Mottley said.
Browne said that his administration is especially interested in saving the jobs of the estimated 700 workers here “and their need for stability and certainty.
“All will be done to safeguard employment. The strategic approach which will be taken by the team consisting of the prime minister, Minister Robin Yearwood (Civil Aviation Minister), and Minister (Lennox) Weston, will head for Barbados next Tuesday; and the Cabinet was unanimous in the approach to be taken,” he added.