The government of Antigua and Barbuda announced on Friday that it plans to challenge the expansion of Caribbean Airlines (CAL) into the Eastern Caribbean, which would harm the regional airline LIAT 2020.The Cabinet issued a statement after its weekly meeting stating that it had taken note of CAL’s growth plans, including its purchase of several ATR aircraft that the company plans to use on routes currently serviced by LIAT 1974 Ltd. The statement claims that Trinidad and Tobago, whose leaders are determined to capture the aviation services that Antigua and Barbuda once exported, has no interest in reviving LIAT.
Lionel Hurst, Chief of Staff in the Office of the Prime Minister, confirmed that LIAT 2020 is expected to be fully operational by Christmas, but that Antigua and Barbuda will not allow CAL to expand in the region without a fight.The government has been working with Air Peace, which plans to bring capital, expertise, and a great deal of interest in ensuring the survival of LIAT. The government believes that this approach is better than the plans announced by CAL through a parliamentarian in Trinidad and Tobago.
In a recent statement, a spokesperson mentioned that CAL plans to take over the aviation services that Antigua and Barbuda have been providing for over six decades through LIAT.This move is expected to adversely impact the country’s economy and lead to the loss of over 600 jobs. In response to this, Antigua and Barbuda will continue to resist CAL’s efforts to take over LIAT’s role as a provider of inter-regional travel services.
Last month, the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, announced plans to replace the struggling LIAT (1974) Limited with LIAT 2020. As a part of this plan, the country intends to collaborate with Air Peace, a Nigerian airline. LIAT (1974) is owned by the governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, and St Vincent and the Grenadines. Due to mounting debts and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, LIAT (1974) went into administration in July 2020.
The plan to create a new airline for the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) has been in the works for a while, but progress has been slow because of difficulties securing funding commitments from all member countries. As a result, the Antigua and Barbuda government has decided to partner with Air Peace, a Nigerian airline, to create a new entity called LIAT 2020. The new airline will not assume any of the liabilities of LIAT (1974), which has faced financial difficulties in recent years.
The involvement of a private sector partner like Air Peace is expected to bring greater efficiency and avoid the legacy issues that plagued LIAT in the past. The launch date for LIAT 2020 has not yet been confirmed, but negotiations are ongoing to purchase at least one aircraft from LIAT (1974) and two others from the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB). The CDB claims ownership of the two aircraft under licensing and lease arrangements.
The new airline hopes to use these aircraft to get off the ground. The idea is to have the airline up and running by Christmas, which is a peak travel period in the Caribbean.