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KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, CMC — Chair of the shareholder governments of the financially troubled regional airline, LIAT, Ralph Gonsalves says while he is unaware of the details regarding any possible retrenchment of employees, the airline needs to deal with its high cost of operations.

Last week, the cash-strapped regional airline described as “speculation” media reports that it was planning to trim its workforce by sending home as many as 200 employees.

The Observer newspaper in Antigua reported that the airline, which is owned by the governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, would send home the workers as it moves to improve its financial stability.

But LIAT Communications Manager Desmond Brown said while the company has taken note of the media reports “any staff cuts that may be required in order to reflect the size of LIAT’s business in the future will only be made in consultation with staff and their representatives.

“This process has yet to commence and therefore any speculation about the number of cuts remains just that — speculation,” Brown said in a brief statement.

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Gonsalves, who is also the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, said that he is aware of plans to streamline the operations of the airline as to ensure “that LIAT be placed on a sounder commercial competitive footing.

“I know that those are policy instructions to the board and to the management. The shareholders have not been informed of the specifics about the way in which they will carry out these decisions for efficiency. So I can’t speak specifically towards any retrenchment.”

But he said he wanted to make it clear that LIAT has explained on numerous occasions the need to cut the high costs of its operations, including salary, fuel, repairs and lease arrangements.

He said while the new aircraft recently acquired had resulted in a reduction in the high maintenance costs, “we still have maintenance cost, but not nearly to the same extent.

“The price of fuel has now started to fall, we don’t know how long it will stay down. But clearly there are savings to be made on the proper utilisation of human resources, and it is the business of management to have a plan in that regards.

“The other matter on which we had already given instructions as shareholders is to, as part of the drive to make the airline more competitively viable, reduce, with a view to eliminate what you may call the social route, the non-profitable routes. So, you are dealing on the one side with expenditure, and you are dealing on the other side with revenue,” Gonsalves said.

Chairman of the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association‘s (LIAL PA) Patterson Thompson said his union is unhappy about the dismissal of two pilots following an investigation into an incident during the passage of Tropical Storm Gonzalo on October 13 that led to one of the airline’s new aircraft being damaged.

Thompson said the union would be taking further steps without elaborating.

Gonsalves said he had “not been given a formal report on that, but I have, like everybody else read about it [in the media] and I am sure I will be given a formal report with all the information”.

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