LIAT 2020 is scheduled to take to the skies within the next four months as discussions enter the final stage with potential investors.
An advertisement in yesterday’s POINTE XPRESS and another newspaper outlined that LIAT 2020, which will be based in Antigua, is looking for experienced people to fill several positions crucial to the airline’s oprations. Vacancies include CEO, captains, first officers, cabin crew, maintenance and engineering, information technology and ground operations.
Minister of State within the Ministry of Finance, Lennox Weston, said the airline will become a reality and, while he did not disclose names, he said several Caribbean governments have indicated an interest in being part of the carrier. He added that discussions are also underway with potential private sector investors.
Indicating that a feasibility study revealed that Antigua and Barbuda can shoulder the financial responsibilities of the airline’s operations on its own following the restructuring exercise, Weston said the administration in Saint John’s does not intend to move ahead alone.
“We have about three governments who have already indicated their desire to participate and we are still in the final stages talking to two additional investors,” Minister Weston stated.
In the past, Prime Minister Gaston Browne proposed the creation of LIAT 2020 out of a restructured LIAT 1974 Limited as the alternative to liquidating the airline.
While the new carrier is taking shape, the issue of severance and other benefits claimed by former LIAT employees continue to linger.
More than one hundred workers have accepted the government’s compassionate payment – fifty percent of what they are owed – but many other former staff continue to hold out in the hope that their union will be successful in getting the government to settle on paying their severance and other emoluments in full.
But Prime Minister Browne has insisted there will be no further negotiations on the issue and he has reminded the ex-LIAT staff that his government was under no legal obligation to paying the former workers at all.
Even if the government was disposed to paying off the former LIAT workers in full, Minister Weston said that would require an investor with “deep pockets” who was willing to settle all outstanding debts estimated at more than $120 million. This figure includes taxes owed to the goverment which he says will prove difficult. This means any hopes of former employees receiving what they are expecting will not materialize.
“If LIAT 1974 Ltd. doesn’t get that kind of level of investment, then it will be dissolved and the dissolution will take place based on the law when you dissolve a company and the benefits of the workers will be paid from the sale of the assets from LIAT 1974 Ltd. That is why the compassionate offer from the government we find quite attractive. But they have a different view. They believe that the assets will yield tremendous benefits and the government is trying to rob them of those benefits,” Weston added.
According to Minister Weston, LIAT 2020 is the government’s vision for a regional airline headquartered in Antigua, adding that LIAT 1974 Ltd. is owned by several governments and for which the receiver Cleveland Seaforth is still searching for investors.
“The Antiguan government is moving quickly ahead to form an airline LIAT 2020 that can viably and commercially provide services, which are essential to the VC. Bird Airport, and to our product and the tourism product of several regional governments.”
The establishment of the new airline will allow for a clean slate where the principals are expecting to implement a management structure that will be effective and profitable.