Antigua-based airline LIAT which has been facing economic woes for years has finally fallen victim to the deadly COVID 19 pandemic. Coming out of a meeting by LIAT’s shareholder governments on Saturday, Antigua’s Prime Minister Gaston Browne announced “from all indication, LIAT will be liquidated,” and that a meeting of all shareholders will be held shortly to discuss collapsing it.
Saturday’s meeting concerning the cash-strapped regional airline was planned to discuss a number of issues facing the airline, including the impact the coronavirus (COVID-19) has had on it.
Speaking on an Antiguan radio station after the meeting, Browne said “COVID would have actually, let’s say increased the losses exponentially, so whereas in all of 2019 LIAT made a loss of about EC$12 million, that was within the means of the shareholder governments to subsidize.”
Browne added, “You would have found that since COVID, the planes have been grounded, they have to pay the lease payments and they are not getting any revenue. A decision will have to be made to collapse it and then maybe the countries within the region will have to come together to form a new entity.”
LIAT is owned by several Caribbean governments including Barbados, Antigua & Barbuda, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Dominica. Heavily subsidized by the shareholder governments, the airline has been struggling for years to make a profit.
In February, last year, President of the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), Warren Smith, said he was “disappointed” with progress towards executing a plan the bank funded to stem losses, improve efficiency and reverse a sharp decline in passengers using LIAT.
The study which was completed in mid-2018 and presented to shareholder governments, outlined the airline’s challenges and opportunities, and put forward a series of recommendations.
Despite the impending collapse, the Antigua and Barbuda leader says he cannot see the region moving forward without a form of connectivity and that a new entity be formed swiftly.
Prime Minister Browne said “Back in 1974 when LIAT was collapsed, my understanding is that it took a day to start the operation of a new entity.”
He added, “It may be a little more difficult to get it done within 24 hours and I do understand that there are a number of stakeholders that we have to satisfy, especially creditors and I believe that we could do a work out with the various creditors and to literally get some arrangement in which they can accept that we are not conveniently closing LIAT 1974 Ltd. The governments cannot go any further with it.”
The Prime Minister made the point that LIAT does not have sufficient assets to satisfy the requirements or claims of most of its creditors, including the airline’s employees.
“LIAT only owns three planes and those planes are charged to the Caribbean Development Bank, so clearly they have a superior claim and after they would have covered their claim there will be hardly any assets available to liquidate severance and other liabilities to staff and other creditors, so there has to be a negotiated position,” Browne said.
“The governments won’t be bandits and just walk away from the staff, they will have to pay some form of compassionate payments to assist them. But they have to understand that they are legally vulnerable and that they have to look at the bigger picture and to cooperate, not to become litigious and to prevent the creation of a new LIAT.”
Leeward Island Air Transport Services was founded by aviation pioneer, Sir Frank Delisle in October 1956 on the island of Montserrat. In 1971 Court Line Aviation of the UK acquired control and renamed the airline LIAT. Ownership of the airline was acquired by 11 Caribbean Governments in 1974 and it was renamed LIAT (1974) Ltd.