Grenada has reiterated its willingness to subsidize the cash-strapped regional carrier, LIAT, but on its own terms.
The island’s tourism minister Clarice Modeste-Curwen yesterday gave the clearest indication yet, how St George’s intended to support the Antigua-headquartered airline, which has been struggling over the last three days to cope with a pilots strike over pay.
Modeste-Curwen told Barbados TODAY in New York, her country, which in the past had been “sort of a quasi-shareholder some years ago because we contributed financially to the running of LIAT”, was now ready to “pay to play” in order to maintain service from the airline.
“We recognize that LIAT is an important flyer in the region and therefore we in tourism, and we have an airlift committee, have renegotiated again. We are willing to pay to play because we recognize that it is necessary to do that, but we are also saying to LIAT that some things would have to improve,” Modeste-Curwen said.
The minister explained that Grenada had withdrawn financial support for the airline because it had been fraught with shortcomings, ranging from perpetual industrial action and late arrivals and departures to bad customer service.
The country’s prime minister Dr Keith Mitchell had said last September that his government was prepared to provide LIAT with a financial subsidy for it to service the island, but was not prepared to provide funds for the airline’s operations.
The prime minister had also said his government was in talks with Trinidad’s Caribbean Airlines (CAL) and other airlines to service the island.
With those talks seemingly coming to naught, LIAT has become even more critical to a tri-state that has been working diligently to grow its tourism, and which offers marketing subsidy to a number of international airlines to guarantee they service the island.
The current shareholder governments in LIAT are Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Over the years Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines has called for Caribbean countries that benefit from LIAT to either pay up or shut up as it relates to the operations of the regional carrier.
Meantime, Antigua and Barbuda has already begun to introduce new airlift in an effort to mitigate any major fallout from unreliable service and periodic industrial action at LIAT.
Chief Executive Officer of the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority Colin James told Barbados TODAY St John’s had been working with a number of other carriers over the years “to ensure that all our eggs are not placed in one basket”.
“Yes, we will support our regional air carrier, but we also have to ensure that Antigua and Barbuda, which is so heavily dependent on tourism . . . have the international routes into the destination, air connection which are convenient [and] same day so that people can move in and out of our destination quite seamlessly and easily,” James said.
Tourism consultant with the government of Antigua Shirlene Nibbs further explained that while St John’s “believes in LIAT as a regional carrier”, that country believed air access was critical and therefore any airline serving the country should be reliable.
“If there is an organization that is not going to be able to deliver on that promise we will have to look for alternatives.
“We will support them and hear them, we have had meetings and we are looking at creative ways we can make things happen, but if it is not available we recognize that the people of Antigua and Barbuda first and foremost depend on us to bring them visitors that their lives can be improved and we will do that [by] using whatever activity is possible to engage other carriers if that is what we have to do,” Nibbs explained, while making it clear that Antigua and Barbuda was not seeking to get rid of LIAT.