At least two regional governments have expressed an interest in purchasing equity in the cash-strapped LIAT.
Word of this from the chairman of the shareholder governments, Vincentian Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, while revealing that the newly-elected Prime Minister of St Kitts & Nevis Dr Timothy Harris had accepted an invitation to take part in tomorrow’s shareholders’ meeting in Bridgetown.
Gonsalves also reported that his St Lucian counterpart Dr Kenny Anthony had been invited to the talks involving him and three other Caribbean Community (CARICOM) prime ministers, whose governments currently account for LIAT’s total equity.
However, Anthony was yet to confirm his participation in Friday’s meeting, which is also due to be attended by Barbados’ Freundel Stuart, Antigua & Barbuda’s Gaston Browne and Dominica’s Roosevelt Skerrit.
“I am quite sure if he [Anthony] is available he will come, because from our discussions he is showing a great interest in getting involved as an equity partner, certainly to provide support within LIAT as we go forward with reforming LIAT and strengthening it,” said Gonsalves, ahead of the high-level talks.
The move to increase LIAT’s shareholder base comes against the backdrop of a new study on Making Air Transport Work Better for the Caribbean, which has revealed that LIAT, Caribbean Airlines and Bahamas Air were consistently recording losses of about a billion US dollars collectively.
The study, which was carried out between the last quarter of 2014 and March 2015, also stresses the need for greater co-operation among regional governments and carriers, including foreign airlines, as well as harmonization of administrative and regulatory policy and operations.
It also calls for the setting up of “a ‘quick-wins’ CARICOM-centric Airlines Association to share best practice and identify cost reduction and revenue enhancement opportunities that could be pursued jointly”.
Gonsalves, who was speaking on the sidelines of the 45th meeting of the Board of Governors of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) in Basseterre earlier this week, where the new research was presented, also revealed that an application was currently before the Barbados-based CDB for additional resources for the Antigua-based LIAT.
“All we have do now is to make the relevant decisions and for everybody to commit to this enterprise of improving the airline business in the whole of the Caribbean,” he said.
At the same time, he suggested that a possible merger between LIAT and the Trinidad and Tobago-owned Caribbean Airlines was not off the table, but said the matter was still to be explored to see where there were possible synergies.
“The time has come that we have to cross a chasm, in something more than baby steps. We have to take a jump and that obviously would have to await the outcome of the elections in Trinidad and Tobago because I don’t expect a government between now and September or whatever the time period for the general election, will be preoccupied with other things [than the election].”
The Vincentian leader however said he was prepared to begin the discussion “as to how we are going forward”.
Other proposals contained in the study are for the creation a high-level Air Transport Reform Authority to address longer-term structural, institutional and industrial barriers.
The new body would be made up of “proven aviation professionals, accountable to the region’s taxpayers that would devise a regional aviation plan [and] develop a safe and efficient regional air transport sector”.
“The Authority would also review the aviation network
and connectivity needs of the region as a whole, with a view to integrating network schedules using all the available
assets – including the smaller aircraft of the third tier carriers.”