...money is the solution
BASSETERRE, St. Kitts - WITH regional air travel a disaster due to the collapse of LIAT 1987 Limited, efforts to have it resuscitated been hit by many snags, but the consensus is that any new efforts will need the buy-in from governments throughout the region.
The latest suggestions forwarded by Antigua and Barbuda were for regional governments buying shares as a contribution so that any new LIAT could service their respective destinations.
Now, Dominica’s Prime Minister, Roosevelt Skerrit is more blunt in his assessment, saying that the airline needs money in order for it to be a viable solution to the current issues.
Since the airline collapsed because of the mitigation measures following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, intra-regional travel has become a challenge; in some cases more expensive or travellers have to be rerouted through international destinations such as the United States and the United Kingdom in order to return to the region.
During a recent interview with SKNVibes on the sidelines of the 2022 Annual Meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Washington DC, St. Vincent and the Grenadines Finance Minister, Camilo Gonsalves said the previous model of several islands bearing the brunt of the operating cost of the airline is not viable.
“Other countries could not be free riders in the process. Every country has to chip in if we are going to have an effective regional travel solution…So, what we have done at the level of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) is to get a general agreement from all the governments of the region that whatever replaces LIAT, whatever comes thereafter, is going to have to have buy-in and support from all the countries that the airline serves,” Gonsalves opined.
He lamented on the previous talk of the bottoms-up LIAT would be rescued by the private sector, stating that it was only a fallacy since no company has stepped forward to contribute to the airline.
That, he pointed out, has left regional governments to fill the gap when it comes to making intra-regional travel more sustainable as borders have reopened to boost tourist arrivals.
The Caribbean Development Bank is leading the talk on intra-regional travel and the resuscitation of LIAT.
“The CDB is currently finalizing a study that will tell us a number of things: in this post COVID environment, what is the optimal aircraft we should use; what is the optimal number of aircraft we should use; what is the optimal location of a hub for the aircraft; what are the likely profitable routes and what are the routes that are unprofitable, but nonetheless necessary; to what extent can the profitable routes subsidize the unprofitable routes; and what is the formula by which all governments will have to chip in for the upkeep of this regional airline.” disclosed Gonsalves.
Skerrit, who recently announced snap elections in Dominica, reminded that it was only four territories within the region that saw the importance of LIAT “as a public good”.
“There is no private entity that is going to solve our regional air travel problem. Governments must invest in it! And so the Government of Dominica is committed to being part of the new LIAT or any company that is prepared to play the role that LIAT played for some many decades,” he added.
The incumbent Prime Minister, when asked by SKNVibes on the way forward for regional travel and what his Government is willing to put forward, stressed that the airline needs money in order to move forward and combat the challenges facing citizens and residents across the region.
“What we need is very simple. We all need to put money on the table. That is the solution to the problem. People criticize the issue of LIAT’s management and so forth…what we need is money! Let us simplify the process: do we need five or six planes? What do these five or six planes cost? What kind of management structure do we need to put in place? What kind of board structure should we put in place? And let us get it going,” was Skerrit’s response.
Also at the Annual Meeting in the US, Guyana’s Finance Minister, Ashni Singh told SKNVibes that his country is willing to support any initiatives put forward, since the people of the Caribbean nation face the same pains as those within CARICOM.
“Frankly speaking, we do not have the kind of international air connectivity that we need in Guyana, particularly given the current growth trajectory. We also remain committed to a viable solution to this problem, and we remain engaged across the region, we remain engaged with our counterparts in devising viable solutions for addressing the challenges for air travel within the Caribbean,” noted Singh.
But as regional heads and financial institutions continue to thrash out the way forward, citizens and residents will have to bear the brunt of the problem as ticket prices continue to skyrocket to move from one destination to the next, and in some instances they are being forced to overnight.