Shareholder governments of the cash-strapped regional airline, LIAT, are to hold an informal meeting on Saturday amid reports that there are plans afoot to wind up the operations of the airline.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, who is chair of the shareholder governments, told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) that Saturday’s virtual meeting will discuss a number of issues facing the Antigua-based airline, including the impact the coronavirus (COVID-19) has had on the struggling airline.
Gonsalves acknowledged that “there has always been a proposal (on winding up) which has been on the table….but shareholders have not discussed that”.
In February, last year, President of the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), Warren Smith, said he was “disappointed” with progress towards executing a plan the bank funded to stem losses, improve efficiency and reverse a sharp decline in passengers using LIAT.
The study which was completed in mid-2018 and presented to shareholder governments, outlined the airline’s challenges and opportunities, and put forward a series of recommendations.
“I must confess that I am disappointed that those recommendations have not been taken on-board in the way in which we had anticipated they would have,” Smith said then.
CMC has been reliably informed that Barbados directors of the cash strapped airline met on Monday, discussing the future of the airline including the possible sale of half of the airline’s fleet.
Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne told CMC that while he was not privy to any report regarding the possible winding up of the airline, he too like his St. Vincent and the Grenadines colleague, has been examining the likely impact of COVID-19 on the finances of the airline.
LIAT was forced to shut down its passenger commercial flights since March when regional government closed their borders as part of the efforts to curb the spread of the virus that has killed thousands of people and infected millions of others worldwide.
“I have no doubt that at the end of the day there will always be a LIAT, even if it is not in its present form,” Browne told CMC.
LIAT shareholder governments are Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Last year. St. John’s rejected Barbados’ offer of US$44 million for a portion of its shares of LIAT. The two parties are still in negotiations.
The debt of the airline is estimated at millions of dollars, and last year Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley said then that LIAT has enough “cash to last for 10 days”.