Air horror fuelling growing consensus for government-backed intra-region airline
August 25, 2023

Air horror fuelling growing consensus for government-backed intra-region airline

From all reports there seems to be growing consensus for the re-establishment of a government subsidised intra-regional airline to serve air transport needs within the Eastern Caribbean. This follows months of virtual “air horror” as passengers, regional and extra-regional alike, are being left stranded around the region with little or no communication from or restitution by the “successor” to the collapsed regional air carrier LIAT.

Let’s just regress a little, for there is an old saying: “Be careful what you wish for”. LIAT had come under tremendous pressure, from the public, its employees, as well as short sighted regional governments which refused to fund its needed fleet regeneration and expansion, while happily subsidizing foreign airlines, and we were led to believe that the private sector would be able to fill the void.

The last few months have brought harsh reality to the region. Each week there are reports, from Barbados, Guyana, Antigua, Dominica and, yes, our own Argyle International Airport of stranded passengers having to fork out thousands of dollars to purchase tickets just to get to a destination though they were holding confirmed tickets on a regional air carrier. It was easier to create the illusion, much harder to make it a reality.

It has reached the stage that on the sidelines of the last CARICOM Heads of Government summit, there appeared to be an emerging consensus that intra-Caribbean air transport needs could only be met by a public-funded airline, as is the case with the University of the West Indies and other regional institutions deemed essential for Caribbean development. It has taken costly disruptions for this reality to be acknowledged and for the “private sector” talk to be proven to be a load of hot air.

Regional air transport in a modern development context is just as important for regional development as modern health care and educational systems. In a region highly dependent on tourism, intra-regional travel must be a key component. Trade and communication cannot prosper without this vital cog, and the chaos that has ensued during this mid-year vacation period and the disruption to sporting and cultural links have emphasized how short-sighted we were in buying the skewed anti-LIAT propaganda.

Of course, this is no excuse for the old LIAT’s well-publicized weaknesses, nor for poor political leadership. But it must now be palpably clear that to believe that the solution is a scramble for some crumbs from a scattered LIAT pie, cannot be the way to go. In the meantime, even our tourism product is suffering as evidenced by the experience of stranded extra-regional passengers, whose story was published by SEARCHLIGHT on Saturday, August 19.

We can only hope that chastened by our experiences, our political leaders and patriotic elements in the private sector will face up to reality, learn from our costly errors and proceed to reconstruct an efficient regional air transport system based on a model of public-private partnership on which our regional development can depend.