Ever since the news broke that Owen Arthur, the former Prime Minister of Barbados, will be the new Chairman of LIAT, there is an air of expectancy of better times for the airline.
On Monday, Lisa Gale said she was confident that there will be a turnaround at LIAT since this remains the only option for the island-hopping carrier. Indeed, she is adamant that LIAT has to be improved, which amounts to a task for the Chairman and the members of the airline’s board of directors.
A couple weeks ago, Arthur was quoted as saying that LIAT had played a pivotal role in Barbados’ tourism industry. One is left to conclude that since tourism will continue to be the main breadwinner for Barbados, LIAT has to be right there to maintain that role, failing which the industry will face setbacks in the regional market, which is very crucial.
The optimism demonstrated by Gale could indeed be shared by several others who believe that the only way for LIAT is up, having been subjected to many difficulties over the course of the last several years.
Arthur is quoted in the press as suggesting that the high airport and airline ticket taxes imposed by regional governments are pushing LIAT further into debt.
One can imagine that this will have to be tackled, even if governments in the Caribbean do not have much elbow room in raising more revenues given their economic challenges, and the fact that people are taxed up their neck.
Pundits and other commentators and even Gale have called for strong action to be taken in charting a course forward for LIAT. They have called for a complete rationalisation of the carrier and to trim costs, even if that means shedding some of the labour employed by LIAT.
In addition, they have gone so far as to suggest that the same way some Caribbean governments continue to give international airlines what amounts to financial support (subsidies) to enter their countries, the same can be done for LIAT, which flies to those same destinations.
It is an important point, which deserves consideration, since in these times there is no such thing as a free lunch. Gone are those days and countries have to get their priorities in order.
Currently, the governments of Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines are the main shareholders of LIAT. As such, others are invited to come on board and the commentators believe that failure to do should result in a cut off in services to those destinations.
Running an airline is not cheap as we in this region have seen the management approaches undertaken by several of those companies, which operate services to our countries. We have seen airfares between this region and the North Atlantic countries continue to increase while the provisions for luggage are scaled back.
There are many among us who complain, and quite rightfully so, that it is even cheaper to travel between Barbados and Miami/Fort Lauderdale than it is to do so from Barbados to Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica.
The coming weeks are to be important for the new board and how they go about positioning the airline. It won’t be easy, but it can be done. (Barbados Advocate)