ST JOHN’S, Antigua, (CMC) – The Antigua and Barbuda government Friday said it intends to “fight” plans by the Trinidad-based Caribbean Airlines (CAL) to expand its operations into the Eastern Caribbean at the expense of the regional airline, LIAT 2020.
A statement issued following the weekly Cabinet meeting said the government had taken note “of the scaling-up of Caribbean Airlines, including the purchase of several ATR Aircraft with the expectation of placing them on routes serviced by LIAT 1974 ltd.
“The statement about CAL’s expansion came from a Trinidad and Tobago parliamentarian who spoke in their parliament recently. It is evident, the Cabinet concluded, that reviving LIAT is not an objective of Trinidad whose leaders are determined to capture the aviation services that Antigua and Barbuda once exported,” the statement said.
Delivering the TT$59.2 billion budget to Parliament on Monday, Trinidad and Tobago’s Finance Minister, Colm Imbert told legislators that following the exit of LIAT, the Caribbean region has been exhibiting strong air transport demand.
He said international visitors are on the rise.
“As markets progressively recover, Caribbean Airlines aims to utilise its assets effectively and establish a foundation for network growth. The airline thus intends to expand its fleet to meet this growing demand through the lease of four additional ATRs and three additional B 737-8s, bringing the fleet size to a pre-pandemic level,” Imbert said.
“CAL also plans to lease five Embraer E-175 regional jets to service the intra-regional demand and to establish bases and hubs across the region to promote efficiency and cost-reducing measures,” Imbert noted, adding two ATRs and two B 737-800s aircraft to grow and expand its cargo services across the region.
But speaking at a news conference in Antigua and Barbuda, Chief of Staff in the Office of the Prime Minister Lionel Hurst told reporters that while plans are for LIAT 2020 to become fully operational by Christmas this year, St John is not going to lie down and allow the expansion of CAL in the region.
“We have been working with Air Peace with the expectation that it will bring capital, expertise and of course a great deal of interest in ensuring that our LIAT survives and we believe that it is a better notion, a better approach than the plans announced by CAL through a parliamentarian in Trinidad and Tobago,” Hurst told reporters.
He said: “CAL essentially intends to take from Antigua and Barbuda the aviation services that we have been providing by way of LIAT for more than 60 years. So we are going to continue to fight this approach of trying to take from Antigua and Barbuda the important role which LIAT did in not only providing service to inter regional travel in the Caribbean, but more importantly for Antigua and Barbuda all those jobs, more than 600 jobs…”
LIAT (1974) is owned by the governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines. It entered into administration in July 2020 following increased debt and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.