Officials at regional carrier LIAT say they are operating under “major constraints” to service Caribbean countries in its network.
In a statement confirming a meeting between the carrier’s management team and Vincentian officials on Wednesday in Kingstown to discuss the island’s complaints about LIAT’s poor service, the airline’s Chief Commercial Officer Lloyd Carswell pointed out that LIAT was struggling to provide a significant number of flights daily with less aircraft.
“We currently operate, on average, 80 flights per day, ranging from the north of the Caribbean to the extreme south with just nine aircraft. Five years ago LIAT operated a schedule with 17 aircraft,” he contended.
However on Friday, Vincentian Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves who revealed that LIAT was on course to get a tenth aircraft in October, was adamant, “that the number of passengers we [LIAT] carrying is more than we had with 15 aircraft.”
Gonsalves, the chairman of LIAT’s shareholder Governments who was in Barbados attending a Brexit symposium at the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) insisted the airline had to do much better.
“The reasons they [LIAT] gave for the poor service of late, which is more of an excuse, has been bad weather. When the schedule is put out of whack, even for an hour, it has a knock on effect throughout the whole chain because you do nearly a thousand flights per week. At the moment we have to do better. “
The Vincentian leader blamed the current inefficiencies plaguing LIAT on the airline’s failure to implement a decision taken since February 2015 to shift its base from Antigua and Barbuda to Barbados.
Arguing that it would be a better financial option for the regional airline, Gonsalves said “ he wanted to know why the move had not occurred.
“ The decision to shift the base has not been rescinded but the management has not carried out the decision and I would like to find out why.”
Gonsalves’ comments comes on the heels of a September 4 letter issued to LIAT, by St Vincent’s Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of National Security in Kingstown Godfrey Pompey, who charged that the airline was taking Kingstown for granted and abusing its accommodation.
Pompey lamented that since June, LIAT’s service to St Vincent has been deteriorating with no improvement in sight.
“As a major shareholder, St Vincent and the Grenadines has been receiving the crumbs in terms of service. Officers at LIAT are now taking pleasure in shifting the blame of LIAT’s poor service to the Ministry and by extension the management of E.T. Joshua Airport, making demands to keep our airport open at times beyond 2:00 a.m. This is highly unacceptable since some category of staff is required to report to work at the opening of the airport at 5:30 a.m.”
The airline’s Chief Executive Officer Julie Reifer-Jones acknowledged that LIAT had cancelled a number of evening services due to adverse weather conditions and have, on occasion, requested later than normal arrivals into ET Joshua, in order to ensure the flight schedule is maintained.
“Cancellations due to adverse weather are done in the interest of safety and with regard for the lives of passengers and crew.”
She added “our operating schedule is hampered due to the airport’s official closing time of 9.00 p.m. However, LIAT have decided to make some network and scheduling changes to avoid the late arrivals into St Vincent.”
Reifer-Jones also reiterated that the regional carrier was constrained by limited financial resources and lack of financial support from many of the territories, which it serves. She called on CARICOM (Caribbean Community) Heads of Government to fully discuss the matter.