The cash-strapped regional airline, LIAT, on Monday resumed its commercial schedule with flights to a limited number of destinations.
The Antigua-based LIAT, which is now under administration, said it will operate flights five days a week to seven destinations across its network.
The seven destinations are: Antigua, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, St Lucia, St Kitts, and St Vincent and LIAT said that the limited schedule of flights will return connectivity to these destinations which were impacted by the airline’s suspension of commercial services in March due to financial problems and the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that forced many Caribbean countries to shut down their borders.
The first resumed flight left Antigua for Barbados at 9 a.m. (local time) on Monday, and Foreign Affairs Minister EP Chet Greene said the resumption of flights “is more than an Antigua success, but a regional success.
“As we factor in the regional integration process we will be able to move goods and services across the region. The whole question of the region re-opening eventually for tourism also puts LIAT in a good position in terms of the feeder services it provides.
“So for all those reasons and more there is no region in the world that operates without a regional carrier and so the sub-region of the OECS (Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States) in particular is counting on LIAT for its services and to have LIAT back in the skies at this time augurs well for the development of the sub-region…and it portrays us a modern developing society,” Greene said on Observer radio.
Prior to its collapse, LIAT, which owes creditors an estimated EC$100 million flew to 21 destinations, operating an average of 112 daily flights within a complex network combining profitable and uneconomic routes.
Airline observers said that these 39 unprofitable flights were to 18 territories.
LIAT, whose former major shareholders were the governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines, said it will announce shortly the addition of other destinations to the schedule for December 2020.
The airline, which said it has completed all the training and regulatory requirements for the territories, also indicated that several new procedures have been implemented to ensure the safety of staff and passengers as well as reduce the risk of transmission of the coronavirus
“These include the mandatory wearing of masks at check-in and on board, enhancement in its cleaning and sanitization protocols and new boarding procedures.
The airline, which is currently under administration, is being restructured following a decision by the government of Antigua and Barbuda to have it reorganised because of its financial situation.
The court-appointed administrator Cleveland Seaforth said the former employees of the regional airline, LIAT, are owed an estimated EC$80 million in severance payments, but that payment will not be made in the near future.
Last month, Prime Minister Gaston Browne said that his administration is prepared to “collapse” the regional airline if it does not emerge as a “new and lean,” entity as part of the re-organisational plans.
LIAT currently employs 103 people with Seaforth indicating that this number could be increased by as many as 30 with increased operations.
Seaforth said that going forward, the Antigua and Barbuda government will have to decide who it will partner with to ensure the viability of the airline. He also hinted at the possibility of the Browne administration being a minority partner in the deal.