St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) has become the second shareholder government of regional airline, LIAT, to complain, within recent times, about the service being provided to its citizens.
The Ralph Gonsalves administration, a major shareholder in the cash-strapped airline, is demanding an urgent meeting in SVG by Sept. 18 with LIAT’s management, operations and the ministry responsible for civil aviation.
The meeting is so that Kingstown and LIAT “can have a common understanding with a view to enhancing the service to St. Vincent and the Grenadines”.
“It is time for LIAT to get its act and attitude towards the travelling public of St. Vincent and the Grenadines together,” Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of National Security in Kingstown, Godfred Pompey, told Diane Shurland, LIAT’s Antigua-based legal counsel, in a Sept. 4 letter.
Pompey also made it clear that once LIAT makes a request for the E.T. Joshua Airport to remain open beyond the 11:30 p.m. agreed operating hours, his ministry will bill LIAT for staff overtime.
In the letter, Pompey complained about the “ongoing scheduling problems and cancellations facing the travelling public of St. Vincent and the Grenadines”.
He said the situation was “further exacerbated” on Saturday, Sept. 3, when LIAT flight LI738, on which the SVG national men’s football team was travelling to Trinidad, was en route to its destination “when in the wisdom of someone in Operations, Antigua directed the Aircraft to return to the E.T. Joshua Airport”.
The aircraft was instructed to return to St. Vincent with the understanding that the team would have been accommodated on the early morning flight to Trinidad and Tobago, where the athletes had a 6:15 a.m. connection on Sunday, Sept. 4, on Copa Airlines.
“Up to our discussion on Sunday 10:15 a.m., the team was still stranded in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” Pompey wrote in the letter, which was copied to chair of LIAT’s board of directors, Jean Holder and Isaac Solomon, who represents the Gonsalves government on the board.
The team left St. Vincent Sunday evening and was stranded in Trinidad and only arrived in Guatemala late Tuesday night, about 24 hours before their football World Cup qualifier match against that country.
Pompey said that since June, LIAT’s service to SVG “has been deteriorating with no improvement in sight.
“As a major shareholder, St. Vincent and the Grenadines has been receiving the crumbs in terms of service. Officers at LIAT are now taking pleasure in shifting the blame of LIAT’s poor service to the Ministry and by extension the management of E.T. Joshua Airport, making demands to keep our airport open at times beyond 2:00 a.m. This is highly unacceptable since some category of staff is required to report to work at the opening of the airport at 5:30 a.m.,” Pompey said.
He said that from observation, LIAT’s management, including operations, “is taking St. Vincent and the Grenadines for granted and abusing our accommodation.
“Despite repeated communication, the demands for extended operating hours at E.T. Joshua Airport are being unbearable and unreasonable. This situation is not only placing extra strain on staff but also increasing the frustration of the travelling public. One is now questioning the frequency of these late night flights and cancellation of services to St. Vincent and the Grenadines to determine whether or not they are deliberate,” Pompey wrote.
The public servant’s letter comes months after Gonsalves on Feb. 25 wrote to then chief executive officer of LIAT, David Evans, who had in a letter one week earlier requested “a further advance of XCD$810,000 by St. Vincent and the Grenadines”.
In response to Evans, Gonsalves said SVG was not well served by the current schedule of the airline and said that SVG cannot be considered to “be in a condition akin to that of an abused spouse, in which commitment is taken for granted, amidst shabby treatment”.
Gonsalves also raised with LIAT on Sept. 2 the issue of a lack of adequate service and poor scheduling to SVG.
The complaints by the Gonsalves — who is chair of LIAT’s shareholder governments — comes even as he has complained about the failure of other governments across the region to invest in the cash-strapped airline.
In April, Evan resigned as LIAT’s chief executive officer after Prime Minister of Dominica, Roosevelt Skerrit, requested an urgent meeting of the shareholders of regional airline and demanded an immediate investigation into the cancellation of a morning flight into Dominica on April 8.
The cancellation reportedly affected over 40 passengers in Dominica.
Skerrit said he was utter disgusted at the shabby manner in which Dominica was being treated by the airline saying it “clearly appears to be an awful, negative attitude towards Dominica by senior personnel at LIAT.”
“I am warning, now, that this must stop,” the Dominican leader wrote.