CMC – Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne has defended the cash-strapped regional airline, LIAT, from criticism about its performance, saying that if it did not exist, “one would have had to be invented”.
St Lucia’s Prime Minister Allen Chastanet told reporters at the CARICOM Heads of Government meeting here that the airline “needs to operate in the context of the private sector”.
The major shareholders of the airline are Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines. But the company, which has been suffering tremendous losses over the years, has come in for much criticism from the Caribbean travelling public over poor customer service, delayed and cancelled flights, and overall high costs of airfares to its destinations.
Calls by the major shareholders for other governments to participate in LIAT in the past have not been successful, with many regional leaders making references to the airline’s financial situation among other concerns.
“Transportation is critical to integration. I have made my position very clear that LIAT needs to be liberalised. LIAT needs to operate in the context of the private sector and I am not convinced that a monopoly in transportation is going to work,” Chastanet said.
But Browne said he had no doubt that LIAT was serving the purpose of moving Caribbean people which was significant to integration and if there wasn’t a LIAT, “we certainly would have to invent one”. He acknowledged there were deficiencies in the operations of the Antigua-based airline, “but some of the problems associated with LIAT, including profitability, are more about market structure and having more players will not necessarily be making things any different, because the airline industry is capital intensive”.
Browne added: “We are being extremely hard on LIAT. We are not looking at the market structure, we are not looking at the other market idiosyncrasies associated with small states with very limited resources, the capital intensive nature of the airline industry and the fact that LIAT is providing a public good that is essential to the integration programme.”