December 14, 2012


The government of St Vincent and the Grenadines has been commended for leading the way in regional airline LIAT’s efforts to replace its aging aircraft.{{more}}

Kingstown, this year, contributed EC$3.8 million towards the fleet renewal and LIAT chief executive officer Ian Brunton lauded the decision by the Dr Ralph Gonsalves government.

“We have seen that St Vincent has already shown the way and we have to commend the government of St Vincent and the Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines for again supporting LIAT … by putting in EC$3.8 million … purely for the re-fleeting,” he said at a press conference in Antigua and Barbuda on Friday.

The money, Brunton said, has been put into an account as the airline decides which aircraft to buy.

The board of directors was expected to hear yesterday the airline management’s suggestions on new planes.

Brunton further said LIAT has identified new routes that it can service without head-on competition with other airlines in the Caribbean, while giving “a lot of value and bring service to countries.

“As you know, within a year or so, St Vincent is going to be having a major international airport there; these are the kinds of things we have to help them exploit and help their citizens and the travelling public to give the kind of choices and value for money,” he said.

Re-fleeting the airline, whose 14 planes average 19 years old, is a major tenet of a new business plan announced last week.

LIAT, which has lost EC$66 million since 2008, with a further EC$23 million in losses projected for this year, hopes the new business plan can fly it into the black as soon as next year.

“If we don’t get the equity to re-fleet, the business plan doesn’t get off the ground,” Brunton said.

The airline is targeting a 20 per cent equity contribution, including 15 per cent from its three major shareholders — St Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda, and Barbados — to help fund the fleet renewal, Brunton said.

The other five per cent would most likely come from regional governments that have expressed an interest in the airline, he said,

He added that shareholder contributions for the fleet renewal, inclusive of transition, training and spares investment costs, will amount to just over EC$78.6 million.

But even as the CEO praised Kingstown’s leadership, the airline’s chair, Dr Jean Holder, noted that other capitals the airline serves are not as supportive.

LIAT’s losses since 2008 are largely because of high maintenance expenditure and high fuel prices.

“Renewing the fleet is not an option, it is a necessity,” Holder told Caribbean journalists.

“The capital investment it now needs will be a lot less onerous if it is shared among those for whom LIAT provides services every day,” Holder said.

“It is time, as was suggested by the President of the Caribbean Development Bank, to feed the cow, rather than drinking its milk, using a straw through the fence,” he said, adding that he was encouraged by Roseau’s promises of financial support for the airline,” he added. (