The assessment by Prime Ministers Dr. Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados’ Freundel Stuart, and Baldwin Spencer of Antigua and Barbuda came as the airline celebrates 55 years of operations.
The trio said the Antigua-based airline must embrace change to adapt to increased competition in the aviation industry.
“Processes of change to minimize costs and to enhance operational efficiencies will be required if the airline is to adapt in today’s dynamic and competitive environment,” a joint statement from the prime ministers stated.
“In particular LIATs stakeholders – employees, management, unions, governments and private sector – must seek to develop win-win partnerships in recognition of the vital role which the carrier provides to our region and the fragility of its survival in today’s harsh economic climate”
The heads of governments noted LIAT moved close to one million passengers last year, contributing to the region’s economic and social development.
They said this provides important linkages for inter-regional travel as well as for connections to international, particularly trans-Atlantic travel.
They saluted the airline’s staff, estimated at more than 900, for building, what they say is, an outstanding Caribbean institution.
“We recognize the important work of this vital regional institution and pledge our governments continued support for the carrier as we seek to ensure LIATs continued future as “the Caribbean airline.” the statement added.
LIAT recently announced it will drop Canouan and Tobago routes due to unprofitability. The airline lost $21.5 million during the first half of this year.
And, CEO Brian Challenger said the company has developed a recovery plan, which he hopes would allow it to break even this year, in spite of the challenges.
“We’re placing a lot of hope on our cargo to, if not carry us over the hill, at least certainly improve on what was done last year and we are seeing that,” he said in an interview.
“Another area where we’re putting a lot of emphasis on – this will not change dramatically the numbers but every bit counts – is our Quikpak product. This is something we have not placed enough attention on over the years and it’s something that we intend to revitalize.”
LIAT re-launched a cargo freighter service earlier this year that would allow it to move cargo throughout its network as well as connecting to international freight carriers at Barbados and Antigua.
The CEO said management is also hoping negotiations on forming a partnership with Caribbean Airlines (CAL), which stalled last year, could resume soon.