As much as I have endorsed and agree with the Hon. Dickon Mitchell, Prime Minister of Grenada enthusiastic idea on the prospect of Grenada contributing to a revitalised LIAT (1974) or a version of it, to address the issue of regional travel, I will, however, recommend that the Prime Minister be cautious in his approach.
Yes, we do subsidise the foreign international carriers heavily to ensure flight sustainability which is much needed to support our tourism industry. However, any good intention to subsidise a revitalised LIAT or version of LIAT, must be seriously and meticulously considered.
There must have been valid reasons why the past administration in Grenada and other members of CARICOM save and except for Barbados, Antigua and St. Vincent did not have the excess zeal and willpower to continue to support LIAT, though they were all benefiting tremendously from such an essential service.
Were the CARICOM governments themselves complicit in the demand for high taxes paid by travellers, or was it a necessity, thereby creating ridiculously high fares contributing to fewer travellers and poor service? There is an old airline jargon “empty seats hurt”.
Therefore, I will humbly recommend that an experienced subcommittee be constituted of local individuals right here in Grenada who are experienced, well-versed and knowledgeable in scope, both in the airline industry and yes, LIAT. Individuals such as many ex-and retired Captains, former president of LIALPA Michael Blackburn, Clifton James – airline expert, and former President General of the Technical and Allied Workers Union Chester Humphrey.
These individuals can be consulted to offer a meaningful and constructive perspective in assessing a way forward for such a crucial and well-deserving decision by Grenada to subsidise LIAT once again or any version of it. They all possess first-hand experience as it relates to many of the reasons for the dismal failure of the model over the years.
For example, after so many repeated injections of funds to the point where LIAT has been still referred to as cash strapped. Not all routes were profitable, yet they were served along with other ill-fated decisions contributing to a debt-ridden and loss-making essential service. These individuals can lend a fresh and meaningful perspective, I am sure if given the opportunity.
Lessons of the past need to be learnt and reasons for failures of the past model need to be revisited and a proper comprehensive framework put in place.
Should LIAT be owned by shareholder governments or privatised and owned by regionally-owned conglomerates with regional governments maintaining crucial voting shares in what can be termed a Government Assist Entity?
What is the best model to ensure profitability, efficiency and sustainability?
An essential service and heavily capital-intensive entity such as a regional carrier, should be carefully thought out for implementation. The concept is there but the model must be tweaked to ensure success. So yes, I do share and support Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell’s enthusiasm for a revitalised regional carrier and Grenada’s urge and initiative to play its part.
An efficient, sustainable and profitable regional carrier, LIAT 2022 is long overdue to serve the needs of the region.
In concluding, I would like to encourage the powers-that-be in the region to please remember all the LIAT’s staff, especially the pilots, who have been severed during the COVID-19 pandemic and have not received their severance, to please do all possible to meet their obligations.
It’s almost three years now. Many are in dire straits. It’s the right thing to do now and in the future. A new and revitalised carrier will need them as it expands, they are among the best pilots in the region and if not the world.
Many are on the verge of retiring but many still have a lot to offer our region but are being called upon elsewhere. Let’s not lose them.
A former airline/aviation official and aviation enthusiast.