While regional carrier, LIAT, recorded a profit of EC$5 million as of August this year, it is expected to lose almost three times that amount in the last four months of 2016 to end with a loss of EC$9.2 million.
The projected loss was announced by chair of LIAT’s shareholder government, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), Ralph Gonsalves, at a press conference in Barbados on Wednesday.
The outlook for the cash-strapped carrier is bleak even as its shareholder governments have been asked to consider a request to provide a further EC$5 million for the airline.
Once approved, payment of the monies will be divided between Barbados, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Antigua and Barbuda, the major shareholder governments, which also include Dominica.
Gonsalves said that shareholder governments have asked St. Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis and Grenada to invest in the airline.
The Vincentian leader also announced that LIAT will be cutting a number of “nonperforming” routes as part of its reforms.
He said it was time to stop treating LIAT like entertainment.
“Look, let us cut out the entertainment about the airline business. This is serious business for serious people,” he said.
He added: “Discussing regional transportation is not part of the entertainment industry and we have had too much entertainment for too long on this subject and we must be serious about it because that is what keeps our region functioning … And I want to encourage my colleagues without any rancour, but with the loving embrace of solidarity, for us to work together and get more governments involved in this thing and really make changes. Let them come in and make the change.”
The reforms will also include customer service improvements and customer training, Gonsalves said.
LIAT employes 669 persons, although it has a budget for only 630.
“The review is being done at the board level, looking at the organizational structure and determining what is the optimal number of employees we should have going forward in serving the entire network,” Gonsalves said.
So far his year, two shareholder capitals — Kingstown and Roseau — have taken strong stances on LIAT, telling the airline to improve the poor service it provides its citizens.
In July, St. Lucian Prime Minister Allen Chastanet said Castries will not invest any money in LIAT and that his government would support an alternative airline.
Gonsalves said Wednesday: “Tell me what is it you want by all means. If you don’t want to invest in LIAT, invest in a competitor airline. This is a free world. You can invest in what you want to invest in. The point is this, all you do when you invest, let us have a level playing field with everybody.”
Gonsalves had taken a hardline position asking Trinidad and Tobago’s national carrier, Caribbean Airline, who he had said had been receiving a fuel subsidy from Port-of-Spain, thereby engaging in unfair competition against LIAT.
On Wednesday, Gonsalves announced that LIAT will improve turnaround time, invest in luggage and mail tracking technology, and staff training.
He identified weak technology infrastructure, a smaller fleet, less-than-ideal ground handling systems and frequent illnesses among staff among the areas that need urgent attention.
“We have too many cancellations caused by illness of flight crew … we have too many bouts of illness which results in cancellations,” he said.
“The main priority of the management is to stabilize the schedule by resolving operational challenges, take action to reduce crew sickness. [Management] will do this in a sensible manner and a sensitive way. You know they have to communicate with the workers, the pilots the professionals,” he told the media.
“A critical review of the schedule has to be fine-tuned, clearly LIAT needs to do fewer routes, but do what we are doing much better,” Gonsalves said.
LIAT has been managed by acting Chief Executive Officer, Julie Reifer-Jones, since April, when Briton David Evans quit after just two years — the second chief executive to do so.
Reifer-Jones is said to be among 51 persons who have applied for LIAT’s top job.
“I am told 51 people applied. Despite [the criticisms], a lot of people want to run LIAT you know,” Gonsalves told Wednesday’s press conference.