Barbados is sticking with LIAT.
In an interview with Barbados TODAY, Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler underscored Government’s commitment to the regional airline as he denied knowledge of any Barbados-spearheaded plan to establish a new regional carrier to rival LIAT.
“I haven’t seen [the proposal]. If I haven’t seen it, it means it doesn’t exist for me and I haven’t heard anybody speak about it in terms of my colleagues in the Government,” said Sinckler. “For me, I can’t say there is [a proposal].”
The Government of Barbados is the majority shareholder in LIAT, which is headquartered in Antigua, but is about to relocate some aspects of its operations to Bridgetown in line with a recent decision by shareholders.
The Government of Antigua and Barbuda, which is opposing the relocation, raised the issue of a rival airline and accused Barbados of involvement in the alleged plan.
However, Sinckler said Barbados was sticking with LIAT but warned it could not be business as usual for the financially strapped carrier. He said the Freundel Stuart administration would be pushing for some “radical” changes to the way LIAT does business but a deadline was yet to be determined.
“Something has to be done and fairly radical,” he said. “I haven’t heard any reports but what I am saying is that from the mere fact, as Minister of Finance, the person who has to work with my colleagues to underwrite much of what is happening at LIAT at present, we know that something has to be done.”
Sinckler said among areas that needed restructuring were the airline’s debt, staffing and the routing.
“We have to look at how far the airline goes. One of the goals of any such airline to be successful is its ability to reach the US mainland, even as far up as Miami. So you have to look at all those factors,” he said.
“We equally also have to look at all of the contributors and ensure that the beneficiaries of LIAT become contributors to its success. So that everybody is putting just as everybody is drawing out,” added Sinckler.
Besides Barbados and Antigua and Barbuda, the other LIAT shareholder governments are St Vincent and the Grenadines and Dominica. Other countries which benefit from LIAT’s services currently provide no financial support.
“I am assured that the regional shareholders, the regional heads of government and the directors who sit in their stead on the board of LIAT have been discussing these matters,” Sinckler told Barbados TODAY. “With something as serious and critical and sensitive as this is, there will be sensitivities on all sides but if there is one common denominator, [it is that] each one of those shareholders understands that the existing status quo cannot continue for much longer.”
Saying he was not an expert on the airline industry, the Minister of Finance said the issues surrounding the airline were of major concern to Barbados as the single largest shareholder and it was time officials stopped tinkering with the airline.
“Tinkering with a fare here and a fare there … is not going to make it successful,” Sinckler opined. “And we are learning that in Barbados and we are learning it in some instances, a painful way, but we are learning it nonetheless.”
“There is only so much you can do of that tinkering . . . if the issues are deeply structured . . . What I am saying is that fundamental changes have to take place to make the airline viable,” he stressed.