(CMC) — A senior official of the financially-strapped regional airline, LIAT, says the struggling Antigua-based carrier should also be considered for assistance as the region emerges from the devastation caused by the passage of Hurricanes Irma and Maria through the Lesser Antilles last month.
LIAT’s chief executive officer, Julie Reifer-Jones, made the suggestion on the side-lines of the presentation of a US$550,000 cheque by CIBC First Caribbean to assist with evacuation flights and other forms of relief for seven storm-battered territories, namely Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, the British Virgin Islands, St Kitts and Nevis, St Martin and Turks and Caicos Islands.
She said LIAT had suffered substantial losses as a result of the passage of the two hurricanes adding, “frankly the discussions about relief efforts going forward should include relief efforts for LIAT.”
She said that the loss to the carrier’s network as a result of the recent storms had been estimated at more than US$4 million and that LIAT, to date, had completed 54 relief flights to affected countries that were mostly “unfunded”.
“We are still in the process of refining these numbers but I would have to say between four to six million US dollars,” she said, adding that “we have been severely impacted by the removal of literally four territories out of the network overnight.”
Prior to the hurricanes, the regional airline had reported that it expected to record an US$9.2 million loss at the end of this year.
Chairman of the airline’s shareholder governments, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines, said LIAT’s budgeted total revenue for 2016 was US$34.4 million, with a small net profit of US$1.85 million reported up to August last year.
However, Gonsalves had also stated at the time that shareholders were considering a request to provide an additional EC$5 million for the airline, which, once approved, would be divided between Barbados, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Antigua and Barbuda, who along with Dominica are its four major shareholders.
But Reifer-Jones acknowledged that with the airline’s total bookings now down 24 per cent, a review of LIAT’s operations was necessary in the wake of the hurricanes.
“We are still in the process of doing an assessment of the full impact [of the storms]. But, I can tell you that it is substantial,” she said, adding that “we will have to step back and review how we go forward in terms of air transportation for the region.
“The issue for us, and this is based on our experience with hurricanes over the years, is that the recovery at the market is not immediate.
“So, it’s not just about the hurricanes. What you have to do is to look at the impact covering the next six to nine months,” Reifer-Jones said, while indicating that it had taken Dominica nine months to a year to return to “a normal state” for travel after Tropical Storm Erika struck the island in August 2015.
“So, during that time the amount of flights we had to Dominica were reduced from five to two and over time we increased to the normal levels,” she said while highlighting the need for a robust regional disaster planning system.
“We need to have a mechanism in place,” Reifer-Jones said, noting “these things have a cost on the regional air transportation services”.