LIAT on their minds: Prime Minister of Barbados, Freundel Stuart (L), sharing a light moment with Antigua's Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer (C) and Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr Ralph Gonsalves (R). (A.Miller/BGIS)
By Sharon Austin
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (BGIS) -- By the end of January 2014, regional airline LIAT should have seven of its twelve new planes.
This disclosure came on Friday during a ceremony at the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) headquarters for the signing of LIAT loan agreements totalling US$65 million to four shareholder governments – Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Dominica -- for LIAT’s fleet modernisation project. Prime Ministers Freundel Stuart, Dr Ralph Gonsalves and Dr Baldwin Spencer signed the agreements.
The agreements provide for the funds to be lent to and repaid by LIAT over a 13-year period, following a two-year grace period. Co-financing for the project is being provided by shareholder equity contributions and from the sale of LIAT’s existing aircraft. The project involves the replacement of the aging fleet through a combination of lease and purchase of aircraft, financing the transition costs associated with the changeover, the upgrade of maintenance facilities and other institutional strengthening activities.
Stuart told the gathering that the government and people of Barbados had a special interest in the survival and efficient operations of LIAT.
“Barbados has a vested interest in the easy movement of people in this region… because CARICOM is our third largest source market for tourism. So, we cannot contemplate a region without the services of an airline like LIAT… I don’t know of any other airlines prepared to do in this region what LIAT has done since 1956, in one form or another. Therefore, the government of Barbados, over which I preside, had no difficulty in lending its consent to the securing of this loan,” he stated.
He stressed that regional transport was an indispensable prerequisite to the development of the Caribbean.
“So, Barbados remains committed to LIAT’s cause. That does not mean that from time to time we too may not have to comment in ways that might make LIAT uncomfortable. But, that is not to be interpreted as any reneging from our commitment to ensuring that this regional airline maximises its opportunities and provides the kind of service to this region which they so richly deserve,” he added.
President of the CDB, Dr Warren Smith, said the airline’s aged fleet poses a significant risk to its commercial viability as well as to the socio-economic benefits accruing to regional economies.
LIAT services 22 destinations, with nearly 1,000 flights weekly.