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Antigua PM criticises plans for Barbados-based airline

Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda. Hon. Gaston Browne Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda. Hon. Gaston Browne
ST. JOHNS, Antigua - March 31, 2015 - The regional airline, LIAT, said yesterday that it had taken note of the statements made by Antigua and Barbuda prime minister Gaston Browne regarding a rival airline as well as the need to rotate the chair of the shareholder governments of the financially strapped airline.

In a one-paragraph statement, LIAT said, “The comments made by the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, over the weekend, have been brought to the attention of the chairman of the board of LIAT and the chairman of the shareholder governments and these matters are currently under discussion amongst the major shareholders.”

Browne, speaking on a privately owned radio station on Sunday, labelled as ‘treason’ plans for a new airline to compete with LIAT, adding that he would demand the resignation of the airline’s chief executive officer, David Evans, if the plans about the new carrier prove to be true.

“I will be calling in Mr Evans very shortly to discuss with him exactly where that plan emanated from. He needs to tell me as the Prime Minister of this country (Antigua and Barbuda) where that plan emanated from. And if it is he hatched that plan on his own, you can be sure that as Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, as a shareholder of LIAT that I will be asking for his resignation,” Browne said.

“I’m told that the proposal was discussed at a recent meeting of the board of directors but the proposal was actually turned down because of the strong objection of the government of Antigua and Barbuda on the issue.”

The document, allegedly authored at LIAT senior management, proposes that a Barbados air carrier be established with its own Air Operators Certificate (AOC) and Route Licensing Authorisation.

The new company would effectively replace the majority of existing LIAT services throughout the region and would seek to develop new markets.

An approach, methodology and structure for the establishment of the new Barbados air carrier were detailed in the document.

It said a traditional approach to fleet planning in a startup airline with a projected requirement of ten aircraft would be to launch initially with two to three aircraft and a limited route network and build thereafter incrementally over a period of 18 months to the final fleet number.

In his radio interview, Antigua and Barbuda prime minister Browne also called for a change in the chairmanship of the airline. St Vincent and the Grenadines prime minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves is the chairman of the shareholder governments.

“I believe LIAT should be owned by the various governments that it serves. I also believe there should be a subvention in order to sustain LIAT, because it is well known that the very nature of the business it is likely to make losses and I am not making a point for LIAT not be to run efficiently.

“Even the chairmanship of LIAT, I don’t see why one prime minister should control the chairmanship of LIAT it should be rotated.

“These are some of the issues affecting LIAT, I mean only one person has brains out of all of the shareholder governments. I am saying there ought to be changes at the level of the directorship, even in terms of the share holding positions of the various governments, I believe the shares of Barbados should be diluted because they believe because they have the majority shares that everything must move to Barbados.”

Earlier this month, prime minister Browne said that his administration would resist efforts to shift the base of the financially-strapped regional airline, to Bridgetown. —CMC

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