Liat’s Chairman Mum On Future On Antigua Headquartered Airline

(Barbados Today) As speculations continue to soar about the future of troubled airline, LIAT Chairman Jean Holder is remaining mum on the latest developments.

However, he told Barbados TODAY one thing was certain – officials are working assiduously to keep the island-hopping carrier in the skies.

“The airline is working very hard to ensure that the airline continues in business and when we have something solid to mention or put on the table we will do so,” said Holder.

“Right now I think that the idea is to work behind the scenes to make sure that the things we are trying to put in place are done and that the airline continues to fly,” he added.

For the past several weeks LIAT’s management, shareholder Government representatives and other key stakeholders have been engaging in talks, as they hammer out a plan to keep the cash-strapped carrier operational.

The discussions have centered around the need for all territories served by LIAT to contribute through a Minimum Revenue Guarantee model.

While pilots have already agreed to a pay cut, this has not gone far enough, with officials indicating that the airline is in urgent need of about US$5.4 million to keep it going.

LIAT employs over 600 people, operates a total of 491 flights per week servicing 15 territories with the support of its major shareholders Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines. Grenada has also recently joined the list of shareholders.

Asked to comment on the proposed purchase of Barbados’ shares by the Antigua and Barbuda Government, Holder would only say, “I am certainly not going to make a statement on that proposal.”

Holder, who appeared unperturbed about any possibility of any imminent closure of the airline, told Barbados TODAY he was aware of several regional carriers that started over the years and ceased to exist today, while LIAT was celebrating 63 years this year.

“And it intends, all goes well, to continue doing that. I think when we have a more substantial statement to be made either way I or the Chief Executive Officer [Julie Reifer-Jones] or somebody else will make it,” said Holder.

Virgin Atlantic Founder and CEO Sir Richard Branson is also said to be interested in investing in the struggling airline.

However, LIAT’s chairman told Barbados TODAY he has received nothing in writing to support that interest.

“Therefore I would not be speaking about that either. This is not the time for wild statements. It is time for a lot of thinking and consideration of the realities of the airline and trying to make sure that this airline does not cease to fly in the region. I do not want to make a statement beyond that,” said Holder.

“LIAT’s management and LIAT’s board and LIAT’s shareholders are working very hard to ensure that the airline continues to provide the quite essential service that it has been offering to the region for 62 years,” said the airline’s official.

Barbados, which is a 49 per cent shareholder in LIAT, has about 116 weekly departures, and is being asked to contribute US$1.614 million, while Antigua and Barbuda, where the airline is based, has 69 departures and is being asked to contribute US$960,310.

St Vincent and the Grenadines has 52 departures and will contribute US$723,711; Grenada will contribute US$487,113, considering its 35 weekly departures; and Dominica, which has 25 weekly flights, is being asked to contribute US$347,938.Like Holder, Prime Minister Mia Mottley and Reifer-Jones have so far opted not to comment on any proposed share purchases or private investment in the airline.