St. Thomas, USVI – Current Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr Ralph E. Gonsalves, who also serves as the Chairman of LIAT Airways, says the closure of the airline is imminent.
The closure of Liat would be a major loss for Virgin Islanders with roots in the Eastern Caribbean, many of whom depend on the airline, which has weekly flights between Antigua and St. Thomas, for travel.
Mr Gonsalves’s gloomy prediction came after at least half of the Caribbean islands with an ownership stake in the carrier were mum on their decision, or unwilling to assist in providing the $5.4 million that the airline needed by March 15 to stay afloat, a deadline long past.
Liat seeking bailout
Liat is majority owned by four Caribbean governments, with Barbados being the largest shareholder with 49.5 per cent, followed by Antigua and Barbuda with 13 per cent, St. Vincent and the Grenadines with 12 per cent, and Dominica with less than 10 per cent.
The countries have been asked to contribute not necessarily based on their stake in the struggling carrier, but rather the frequency of Liat’s flights to their destination.
Barbados, for example, is being asked to contribute $1.6 million, as it has 116 weekly Liat departures from its airport, while Antigua, with 69 departures, is being asked to commit $960,310. St. Vincent and the Grenadines, with 52 weekly departures, has been asked to contribute $723,711, while Grenada has been asked to commit $487,133. Grenada has 35 weekly Liat departures.
Dominica, the country with the smallest stake and least flights—25 weekly departures—has been asked to contribute $347,9238 to save the airline.
But Mr Gonsalves said only his country had adhered to Liat’s desperate call for financial help, setting aside $1 million to help the carrier. Without funding from the other stakeholders, the airline will collapse, he predicted.
Barbados Minister of Tourism Kerrie Symmonds bluntly stated in March that Barbados, the majority shareholder in Liat, was not Liat’s ATM machine. He said this while at the same time expressing interest in keeping the airline alive.
“The governments have not been responding so the shareholders are reaching a critical point now and if you ask me, what is likely to happen … there will be a transitional restructuring leading to a closure of LIAT,” Mr Gonsalves said.
According to news reports from around the Caribbean, Liat stakeholders will meet in Barbados at the end of April to address the worsening crisis.