New plan

Regional leaders have agreed to hire a consultant to advise them on getting transportation across the region back to pre-COVID levels.

The decision was made at a meeting chaired by the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) and attended by leaders of the sub-regional Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), a Barbados representative, and Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali on Tuesday.

Grenada’s Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell reported at a post-Cabinet news conference in his country on Wednesday that the leaders met to discuss the situation regarding air transportation in the Caribbean amidst concerns that both regional and international travellers were finding it very expensive and difficult to travel.

“It was agreed that we would retain a consultant to provide advice to the heads of the region as to how we can address the critical need to have . . . air transportation resumed at a level that existed prior to COVID-19,” he told reporters.

Mitchell said leaders were at the stage of looking for “appropriate” options for intraregional air transport to fill the void left by LIAT (1974) Limited which went into court-appointed administration in 2020 after a High Court judge in Antigua and Barbuda granted a petition for the cash-strapped carrier’s reorganisation.

“Whether it is LIAT, a new version of LIAT or any other carrier, we are really interested in finding appropriate air travel for the OECS. I can certainly say it will not be LIAT (1974) Limited because obviously that entity is bankrupt and no one is reviving that entity. As you may be aware, I think there is LIAT (2020) which currently operates out of Antigua and has two planes in service,” the Grenadian leader said.

“The question may be whether that service is extended or whether a new entity is created. There is also InterCaribbean Airways [and] whether there [can be] a combination of both of those. Where we are is that we want to ensure that there are appropriate air services in the Caribbean, and we are committed to helping in any way we can.”

Mitchell said the new initiative may mean “direct financial contribution, whether from an equity perspective [or] from a loan perspective”.

“It may mean looking at the taxes on landing charges and fees that are charged at our airport. We are open to looking at all of the possibilities in coming up with the best solutions,” he added.

At their summit in Suriname last month, Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders agreed on a new Multilateral Air Services Agreement (MASA) that will create a new framework within which air transportation will operate in the region.

St Vincent and the Grenadines’ Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said that countries, particularly those in the Eastern Caribbean were being severely affected by the loss of thousands of seats “because LIAT as it was is no longer before us”.

LIAT is owned by the governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG). Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said previously that a decision had been taken that would allow Barbados and SVG to turn over their shares in LIAT to Antigua for EC$1 (BDS$0.74).

The airline owes former employees millions of dollars in severance and other payments.

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