More than a year after the board of directors of regional carrier LIAT announced it would shift its fleet base from Antigua & Barbuda to Barbados, the move has been formalized.
“For all intents and purposes I would have to say it is formalized. The shift has taken place and of course it will constantly be reviewed and we will see what we have to do going forward,” Minister of Tourism and International Transport Richard Sealy revealed to Barbados TODAY this afternoon.
Following a meeting of shareholder governments here in February 2015, Chairman of the group, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines announced that a decision had been taken to shift the cash-strapped airline’s base to Barbados because it made financial sense.
Gonsalves had said at the time, Barbados would house four of the airline’s new ATR aircraft, two would remain in Antigua and the other two would be based in Trinidad to focus on the more lucrative southern Caribbean as part of plans to restore the airline to financial stability.
The announced move was fiercely opposed by St John’s and by July last year, Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne had announced that the proposed move was scrapped and all claims of relocation were merely “idle talk”.
However, even as he admitted that there would be implications for the airline’s administration and crew, Sealy today reiterated that it was a sensible one which would redound to LIAT’s financial health.
“What is more relevant where LIAT is based in terms of its overall performance is where you have your hubs located. One of the things that we have discovered, is that because of the level of airlift that comes into Barbados, particularly from UK [and the rest of] Europe, it makes more sense to have more LIAT aircraft based here,” he said.
“But the point is, having a large element of your flight operations at the VC Bird [International] Airport in Antigua, didn’t necessarily make as much sense as having some of the flights here . . . and we have an increase in the number of aircraft that are based in Barbados.”
Sealy, who is Chairman of the Barbados-based Caribbean Tourism Organization, said a discussion was needed on how to deploy LIAT’s resources so it would make financial sense and make it easier for the travelling public, including international visitors.
He was of the view that as a “highly tourism-dependent region” the Caribbean had a responsibility to facilitate travel around the region once tourists arrive here from international markets.
“We have some opportunities that we are trying to take further advantage of in that regard, and that is the reason why we have seen the increased activity in terms of the Barbados hub and why it is a sensible move that was proposed by the [airline’s] management,” he said.
Sealy said the company had started the process of reducing its staff and that decisions had been taken regarding route deployment in order to cut costs while meeting its social responsibility.
“So it’s like a balancing act, really,” he said.
LIAT announced in a terse statement last week that it had accepted the sudden resignation of its Chief Executive Officer David Evans after less than two years on the job.
Sealy did not think the CEO’s resignation would affect confidence in the airline. However, he said the travelling public’s confidence in the carrier would rise if it improved service and punctuality.
LIAT’s major shareholders are Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica and St Vincent & the Grenadines.