St Lucia’s Tourism Minister Allan Chastanet

A regional civil aviation minister has criticised LIAT for its “high prices” and policies and he  is convinced that change is needed if the region is to make any headway in the  sector.

St Lucia’s Tourism Minister Allan Chastanet, who attended a ceremony to mark the introductory flight of St. Lucian-based airline CARICOM Airways here yesterday, expressed dissatisfaction with LIAT’s decisions and operations which he is convinced have  only negatively affected the region. Chatanet noted his comments were not intended to be derogatory.

Chastanet told media at the ceremony that he believes that LIAT has displayed a predatory approach to operating, which needs to be stopped.

“There are things that happen in this region and I felt it was important to mention because when WINAIR started its operations in St Lucia, the next day LIAT started a flight between St Lucia and St Maarten. And ironically WINAIR decided to pull off that route and LIAT has pulled off that route. This is the kind of behavior that we must stop. So, CARICOM Airlines is not coming on this route because WINAIR is coming off the route. There has been no collusion between the two airlines,” he said.

He further stated, “That is the level of collaboration that we need. We’re fighting too many enemies on the outside to be spending time fighting with each other here and I would like to think that down the road that these smaller airlines will be working in collaboration with LIAT and that LIAT does not feel threatened by them because LIAT by itself is a great airline, it has a long history.”

Chastanet said that LIAT should consider joining forces with the other regional airlines in order to create a stronger competitive front against the rest of the world.

“It (LIAT) cannot do everything by itself and it must stop having this territorial and ‘predatorial’ attitude towards people who’re coming into this region.We need all of us. We need to put ourselves in a much more competitive position against the rest of the world,” he stated.

Chastanet also spoke against high fares in the region.

“This is what we have to change, and again, I’m not saying anything derogatory against LIAT cause a lot of times when I say things people think I have something about LIAT. I don’t. What I have is about being competitive and making sure that this region is competitive.

“I have not seen any major strategic changes at LIAT to give us any comfort that the cost is coming down anytime soon. And its on the basis of that that we are gonna continue to support the entry of any new airlines in to our region,’ he added.

He also blasted the airline for what he said is its lack of respect for customers.

“More importantly, it seems to be the lack of respect of the individual consumers.  I was very disturbed as the minister of civil aviation. I certainly made these points well known to both LIAT and to other operators involved in LIAT, and the pilots, in particular, going on strike during a Christmas period or Easter period right now considering the dependence of this region on one airline to me is not an option, and for anyone to be using that as a threat to be able to improve their own position really is unacceptable considering the dependence that we have on aviation,” he added.

He mentioned that travel among Caribbean people in the region has decreased by 50 percent since 2005 from 100,000 to 50,000 a year.