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KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves says now is the time for the Dr. Kenny Anthony government in Castries to become an equity partner in LIAT as the regional carrier moves to renew and expand its fleet.

He told a media briefing on Wednesday that the St. Lucian leader said in an interview with a Castries journalist that the nation’s treatment of the financially troubled airline is “unfair.”

“… a journalist in St. Lucia got Kenny Anthony and I to sit down Friday evening after CARICOM [Summit] to interview both of us on LIAT, and put him on the spot.

“She really put him on the spot and he said that it is unfair for them to be using LIAT, benefitting all the years and be giving American Airline support and nothing is coming to LIAT,” Gonsalves said.

Gonsalves, who is chair of LIAT shareholders, however, said that Anthony has some concerns about “LIAT’s management and the like, but he is looking favourably at the matter of becoming an equity partner or at least to provide some form of market support to LIAT”.

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The airline, which is owned by the governments of Antigua and Barbuda, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Barbados,

“Hopefully, as I tell him, now is the time to come in as an equity partner — an equity shareholder — because you are going to be part of making the decisions concerning the types of planes we would have to refresh and the types of planes you are going to extend, expand the service,” Gonsalves said of his conversation with Anthony.

He further said that Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skeritt confirmed last week on the sides of the CARICOM meeting in St. Lucia Roseau’s commitment to becoming an equity partner in LIAT.

According to the Caribbean Media Corporation, Skerrit recently defended the decision of his administration to invest EC$8 million (US$2.96 million) in the LIAT.

He said LIAT had already introduced two flights to accommodate night landings in Dominica, allowing citizens to take advantage of late connections from North America and Europe, Barbados, and Antigua and Barbuda.

“We are appreciative of LIAT for this … and, as a matter of fact, we already started discussions with LIAT in light of the situation confronting American Eagle to see whether they could reinstate the direct flight from San Juan to Dominica to facilitate our people who would be flying into Puerto Rico and who find Puerto Rico to be the more accessible hub to get to Dominica.”

LIAT is especially important to St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Dominica as it regards extra-regional travel since both nations do not have an international airport.

“Clearly, with freedom of movement, we have to have the planes to travel…” Gonsalves said of LIAT’s fleet renewal and expansion, which will be the focus of a meeting of shareholders in Barbados on July 20.

Last month, LIAT lost a 21-year-old aircraft, the oldest of its three Dash-8s in operation, in a major fire at LIAT headquarters. Then on Wednesday, one of its twin-engine aircraft on a flight from St. Kitts lost power in one engine before it landed in St. Maarten.

Meanwhile, Gonsalves told reporters last week that “in practical terms” he doesn’t expect investments in LIAT from St. Kitts and Nevis and Grenada, which are under International Monetary Fund programmes.

“So, practically speaking, it is really Dominica and St. Lucia which I am looking at immediately,” he said.

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