While Caribbean leaders are busy trying to put together the new LIAT 2020, an aerospace engineer from the University of Texas at Austin is optimistic that LIAT 1947 Ltd can be revived instead.
John-Paul Clarke told an aviation panel discussion during the recent Global Tourism Resilience and Sustainability conference at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, in Jamaica, that for the airline to be revived, however, it will require political will and a short-term incentive scheme from governments.
Shareholders of LIAT have asked the Prime Minister of Guyana to assist with the setting up of a new entity since according to them the oil-rich country now has more resources than most Caribbean islands
But Clark said instead, these Caribbean governments should work together to attract wide-bodied long-haul planes to the region and introduce incentives to allow small regional carriers to provide connectivity to the various islands.
“That would help intra-regional travel because that connectivity there would become a bridge and you know there are lots of small carriers. LIAT would be resurrected in some form. I have faith that will happen. So there is lots of potential there,” he said.
He said a holistic approach must also be taken and the governments in the region must think about whether they are going to do it themselves or provide incentives for the private sector
“But that is something I wish we could do sooner rather than later because convenience and connectivity are key,” he said
Besides, Clark said there is enough demand for travel within the Caribbean for LIAT to be revived.
“There is demand for travel in the region, and even though you have Winair and InterCaribbean Airways, there is still enough demand that you are going to need another carrier. I think the government in Antigua is very keen to maintain their operations from their skills base and all the maintenance facilities they have and things they have built up. So, with the combination of political will and demand and you have the aeroplanes it can work”.
He also believed that a subsidy scheme could be put in place saying, “you can do some essential air services type agreements like you have in the US, for example, where they subsidize to help them build back up,”
The subsidies, according to him, should be designed to taper off over a while.
“I think being able to do something like that would allow an airline that is truly optimized. Sometimes when you have long-term subsidies you end up with bad economic behaviors,” he added
Meantime he said, Antigua and Barbuda was “in a great spot” to be a connecting hub for the Eastern Caribbean.
“Not that I am promoting Antigua but I am just looking at it from a purely rational basis, but any of the countries with long runways on the eastern side will be a great connecting point to Africa. The question is where should it be,” he said.
“It is all about the economics. If you can make a direct flight work you do a direct flight, if you can’t do it then you make a hub. How many people from Sierra Leone are going to want to come to Barbados in a given week, are there enough to fill up an airplane? But if you add up all the Caribbean islands and you could feed them out of there, then everybody could get traffic. That is the whole point,” he contended.
LIAT, which was already bugged down with financial issues took a turn for the worst when Covid-19 force the airline to ground all its flight. Now it is operating at a reduced level with fewer flights
While some people are for reviving the airline, there are plans to liquidate it and start LIAT 2020, an initiative by Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne.
LIAT is headquartered in Antigua and Barbuda.
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