ST. JOHN’S, Antigua– The government of Antigua and Barbuda says it is going ahead with plans for establishing a new regional airline even as it acknowledged a move by other sub-regional countries to do so.
Prime Minister Gaston Browne, responding to an opposition question regarding improved regional transportation, told legislators that it is well known that the government “has been struggling” with the cash strapped LIAT (1974) Limited over the past three years.
“We would have gotten it right from the onset. We knew that if we were to allow the other shareholders of LIAT to collapse the airline that it would have created a significant problem to connect Caribbean people and you would recognize that not withstanding the fact that LIAT is still operating there’s still a problem in terms of meeting the demands of the Caribbean people, especially individuals within the OECS sub-region.”
LIAT (1974) is owned by the governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica and St Vincent and the Grenadines. It entered into administration in July 2020 following increased debt and the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.,
“We have tried in the past to get all our OECS colleagues on board to start an OECS airline, but the problem we have had, and this is…a problem that existed for decades, is that to get a commitment for all of the countries to fund an airline has been a problem,” Browne said.
“What would have happened over the years, you would have had four countries carrying the burden while the others benefiting from the services of LIAT. It is no different today, if anything it is probably worse”.
Browne told legislators that as a result of a lack of commitment, his administration decided to pursue a new partner for the proposed LIAT 2020 “which will be a new legal entity that will not assume any of the liabilities of LIAT (1974).
“Whatever assets it acquires from LIAT 1974, LIAT 2020 will pay for them in full,” he said, acknowledging that “we were unable to attract investors from within the region, we went extra-regionally and that is why we had to establish a partnership with Air Peace,” a private Nigerian airline founded in 2013.
“Air Peace is a billion-dollar company. In fact just recently it would have ordered about US$300 million worth of aircraft. So it is substantial in terms of its asset base, it has the experience and the argument has always been within the region that whatever regional airline that is established that you should have a private sector component to ensure that we have the necessary efficiencies and to avoid the legacy issues that we have had with LIAT in the past.”
Browne said he believes that Air Peace would not only bring assets in terms of cash and aircraft, but also expertise “to help us to manage LIAT to ensure it sustains viability”.
He said he is aware there are plans for a “supplementary OECS airline, there is talk so far but no firm commitment and we have to watch that space and see how it develops.”
The OECS leaders met earlier this month to discuss the issue of air transportation in the region and has appointed a technical team to further discuss the situation.
Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, speaking on the state-owned DBS Radio, said that each of the member countries of the OECS will have a representative on the technical team “and then we will be engaging some consultations to put into place the legal and corporate framework to advance the decisions that would have been taken on Sunday at that meeting of the OECS heads”.
The OECS groups the islands of Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Kitts-Nevis, Montserrat, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands.