The Antigua-based regional airline LIAT is not moving its headquarters to Barbados.
However, in an interview with Barbados TODAY yesterday, Minister of International Transport and Tourism Richard Sealy reiterated that a decision has been taken by the airline’s board of directors to shift its “fleet base” from St John’s to Bridgetown.
“I know that the Antiguans apparently were upset when I made these statements, but I haven’t said anything about moving the headquarters, that’s a separate discussion and is not really relevant in dealing with the viability of the airline,” Sealy said in a clear the air statement yesterday.
However, based on the outcome of a meeting of shareholder governments in Barbados in February 2015, he explained that rather than having a major hub at VC Bird International Airport in Antigua, the decision was taken by the LIAT board of directors that “we would also have aircraft based in Barbados and Trinidad as well, because, in essence, given the international flights coming to Barbados, it makes sense.”
His statement became necessary after Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne publicly differed with him on the LIAT relocation plans.
In fact, Browne stated that Sealy must have either been “misinformed” or had spoken “out of turn” on the matter.
“I know that Minister Sealy suggested that a decision has been taken to move LIAT’s headquarters, but that is not so. Perhaps he is either misinformed or he spoke out of turn, but the reality is there has been absolutely no discussions about moving LIAT’s headquarters,” Browne said in response to the Barbadian minister’s comments to Barbados TODAY earlier this month.
He also told reporters in St John’s that any plans to shift the airline’s headquarters would be strongly resisted by his administration, as he announced plans to increase the island’s shareholding in the regional airline.
However, while insisting that he had not “announced anything” regarding the removal of the headquarters, Sealy
pointed out that “Antigua does not have the level of airlift internationally that Barbados has” and that “LIAT does better with people who are interlining, people who have booked their flights from outside of the region as well in terms of the mark ups that they get as well.
“So it makes sense to develop the Barbados hub given the level of activity in this part of the Caribbean.
“It is not we are going to shut down VC Bird, we will need to have activity up there, aircraft based up there and this is what was agreed at the board level, I haven’t announced anything,” he stressed.
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 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.
Dominica is the other shareholder government in the regional airline, which has also suffered a loss at the helm of its management team.
However, Sealy refused to be drawn into public discussion on the sudden resignation of CEO David Evans, whose surprise exit, followed a stinging criticisms leveled against the carrier by Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit.
The Barbadian official said are focused on having a viable plan that would allow this “very critical airline” to “continue to function on a viable basis.
“Prime Ministers comment on what prime ministers say. Ministers don’t comment on what prime ministers say,” Sealy added.