LIAT, in which Barbados is a major shareholder, is appealing to non-stakeholder Governments who benefit from the airline’s service, to help it cover the $200 million it’s costing the company to buy 12 new planes.
Speaking this afternoon during a welcoming ceremony at Grantley Adams International Airport for the arrival of the first of the new leased ATR-600 series, LIAT’s Chief Executive Officer, Captain Ian Brunton said that without these aircrafts, the airline would “surely die.” Thanking shareholders Barbados, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda and recently Dominica for their investments, Brunton noted that the airline has been struggling with the old planes.
Describing the new planes as a game-changer which would be more economical, quieter, cleaner and non-vibrating, he pleaded with shareholders, the board and staff to work together in making the initiative work for the good of the people of the region and the integration movement. He believed that once this was done, LIAT could make a quick turn around.
The former professional pilot disclosed that the company had already raised some of the money to retool the fleet, but was now waiting for the conclusion of a long-term loan of $130 million from the Caribbean Development Bank to coincide with the arrival in August of the first new 48 seater planes which have not been leased. He revealed that seven aircrafts would be coming this year – July, August, September, October and November. The remaining five, he pointed out, were scheduled next year.
Brunton told those attending the cermony that included Minister of Tourism, Richard Sealy and Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of International Transport, Senator Irene Sandiford-Garner, that the first plane will begin commercial flights tomorrow or the following day.
When he addressed the gathering, Sealy put all concerned on notice, that LIAT must cut costs and show results for the investment which the tax payers of this country have been putting into the airline. He cautioned that Barbados “can’t simply poney-up LIAT whenever it wants assistance.”
Sealy insisted that all the countries must lend support. The minister suggested “we have to work together to grow this market. Let’s work with LIAT to fill these planes.” He, too, “strongly” encouraged those who benefit from the airline, to support it.
Sealy explained that it would cost $200 million over the next three years to refresh the fleet with the dozen planes. He identified the arrival of the ATR craft as the start of a new fleet, from which he hopes LIAT would grow from strength to strength. The cabinet minister argued that the company would not be able to cut its fares by continuing to operate old equipment. He was of the view that more efficient planes would be the beginning of any move to lower fares.
Chairman, Dr Jean Holder sought to make a case for the purchasing of the new planes, reasoning that if LIAT were to shut down for a week, the entire Caribbean region would collapse. Holder conceded that while several airlines – local and foreign – have come and gone, the regional carrier has survived for the past 57 years. For him, LIAT is an essential service, which is a major contributor to the socio-economic well-being of the people of the region. The chairman stated that the company would be able to cut costs in half with the new fleet.
Holder feels the planes would make a big difference to the airline’s bottom line. The new aircraft which touched down at Grantley Adams International at 1.23 p.m. today from Antigua, started its 7,000 mile journey from France – where it was made – last Friday, and stopped at Dominica, St.Vincent. It retunred to Antigua this afternoon after being greeted with the traditional water salute – thanks to the Barbados Fire Service. (EJ)