Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves says the Kingstown-based, One Caribbean, airline could begin regional flights as soon as next Sunday as part of its efforts to fill the void left by cash strapped regional carrier, LIAT.
The major shareholder governments of LIAT have, with the exception of Antigua and Barbuda, agreed, to place the airline into liquidation. But St. John’s has criticised the move and instead is urging support for the idea of a new company, LIAT 2020, to take over the operations of the financially strapped LIAT (1974) Limited, whose other major shareholder governments are Barbados, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Dominica.
Prime Minister Gonsalves, speaking a local radio programme, said he had held discussions last weekend with One Caribbean and a letter was supplied to him from the lessor of their planes.
“And they have immediately another SAAB 30-seater, it is really a 34-seater but they take off the back bench, so to speak, so that they can have more space for cargo so they run cargo. They accommodate 2,500 pounds of cargo,” said Gonsalves, adding that the airline operates two SAAB 30-seaters and a 19-seater aircraft.
Gonsalves said that One Caribbean could get another 30-seater aircraft within two weeks.
“One Caribbean has given us — that is to say, the government — a proposal and they want to begin to move passengers on the 12th and I think they have been advertising that,” he said, noting that he was also due to have received another proposal from the locally-based SVG Air.
Gonsalves said he is urging the two airlines to “coordinate their work” and that he had also spoken to the principals in interCaribbean Airways prior to and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gonsalves, who has lead responsibility for regional transportation in the quasi-CARICOM Cabinet, said he had also received a call from the chairman of Trinidad-based Caribbean Airlines (CAL).
“They have sent me a document which shows that what they have at the moment, they can do 80 per cent of LIAT’s pre-COVID network,” Gonsalves said, adding that Air Caraïbes, a French Antilles airline, has two ATRs and a number of jets that link Martinique and Guadeloupe to Paris.
He said further, there is Air Antilles, which operates outside of the CARICOM Multilateral Air Services Agreement (MASA) region and for which special arrangements would have to be made. But he said this has happened in the past.
Gonsalves said that One Caribbean would like to begin by moving people between St. Vincent, Barbados and St. Lucia and then within another week to Grenada and Dominica.
“And I am waiting on the proposal from SVG Air to do Grenada, more or less immediately, while they continue to do that link which they have been operating in the [northern Caribbean].”
Gonsalves said he does not know when CAL would recommence flying.
Gonsalves told radio listeners that he is interested in regional travel and that is why his administration had cut by 50 per cent, its departure tax, bringing it down to US$20
“And what happens would be on the market place which you have and the investments and how these things are going to pan out,’ he said, in an apparent reference to competition among carriers.
“But we have assets, as I have identified, where, if there is coordination, we can move people. Because I am interested, I have to be interested in moving people,” he said.