Opposition Member of Parliament for St Michael North Ronald Toppin today told Parliament that the time had come for a serious decision to be taken on the future of regional carrier LIAT.
Toppin told the House of Assembly that even though the airline had been subsidized by shareholder governments for 42 years, it has “grossly under-performed”.
“I am really quite aware of the origin of LIAT in the context of the formation of CARICOM [the Caribbean Community], and the particular role that was envisaged for LIAT in the context of CARICOM.
“But the reality now is that the burden of the operations and the inefficiencies of LIAT have now fallen disproportionately on the shoulders of a few governments, including and perhaps especially Barbados,” Toppin said.
He also warned that “the unrelenting injection of money into LIAT” was unsustainable, while suggesting that Barbados was not getting the maximum financial returns on the “extensive sums” that successive Democratic Labour Party and Barbados Labour Party administrations have injected into the airline.
He also proposed that LIAT becomes a low-cost and efficient model carrier, a suggestion that was dismissed by Minister of Tourism and International Transport Richard Sealy.
Prime Minister Freundel Stuart also rushed to the carrier’s defence, saying it had been critical to the region’s development over the past six decades.
“Had there been no LIAT in the Caribbean, this region could not have been held together as it has been over the last 60 years. Airlines have come and gone, and they’ve come to replace LIAT.
“They’ve come, they’ve seen LIAT and they’ve had to turn in the opposite direction, went about their business and LIAT has been with us for 60 years. And with a safety record second to none,” Stuart said.
The St Michael South MP further argued that while LIAT has not been making a profit, it was essential to the movement of people across the Caribbean where it operates 558 flights per week, with 112 departing from Barbados.
That figure, he noted, accounts for about 20 per cent of all flights out of the Grantley Adams International Airport.
He also told Parliament that the airline, with the assistance of shareholder governments, had significantly reduced its loss this year.
“I was very pleased at the last shareholders meeting to be told that LIAT’s projected loss for 2016 is going to be just nine million dollars.
“It was $50-something million in the year 2015. And as a result of intervention by management and by the shareholders, the loss forecast for 2016, it’s going to be just 9.2 million,” Stuart said.