Minister of Tourism and International Transport Richard Sealy is hinting at further job cuts at regional airline LIAT.
It was just last month that the chairman of the airline’s shareholder governments, St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said staff numbers had dropped from 1,200 in 2001 to 669 at present.
Sealy told Parliament this morning even more jobs could be slashed as the financially ailing company seeks to improve efficiency.
“This Government has made tough decisions because we understand it cannot be business as usual. That’s the reality. And you know what? We’re probably going to reduce that staff count [at LIAT] by another 30.
“Now it is true that only 90 of those people [total staff] are based here – most of them are based in Antigua, but we are trying to run a lean, mean and more efficient operation, but at the same time not compromise our social responsibility to the people of the Caribbean,” Sealy stated.
He added that LIAT would have to explore more opportunities for code-share agreements, similar to the just-ended arrangement with Caribbean Helicopters, which serviced Nevis and Anguilla.
LIAT announced last weekend it would not renew the short-term agreement, which expired on Saturday.
The much-maligned Caribbean airline currently services 16 countries directly, and the company has already announced plans to rationalize some routes.
According to Sealy, the carrier is now looking to partner with other companies, including the charter airline, Trans Island Air.
“Trans Island Air are not using brand-new aircraft out of a showroom, they’re using aircraft that have some miles on them. We have to be doubly sure we have to go through the regulatory process.
“Trans Island Air is not going to be any competition for LIAT directly, it is an opportunity to work together. Their smaller aircraft, the so-called third-tier carriers, can work with LIAT and that is what we’re doing,” Sealy said.
Meanwhile Member of Parliament for Christ Church East Dr Denis Lowe told legislators LIAT remained critical to the regional integration process, notably the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Single Market and Economy.
“LIAT cannot be described exclusively within an economic zone. It has to be looked at relative to its socio-cultural relevance to the region, and whether or not that side of the equation is as equally important or more important than the economic good that is to be attached to the LIAT experience,” Lowe said.