AS A TAXPAYER of Barbados, I would like to add my voice to the call for a thorough shake-up of the management of the regional airline LIAT and a complete change in its board, as stated in the interview with Mr Robert Pitcher printed in the Sunday Sun article of June 27.
Like Mr Pitcher, I am a frequent traveller within the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States who has suffered for too long while LIAT has enjoyed its monopoly status within the region.
Just three years ago, LIAT was fully recapitalised at great expense to the governments and people of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados and St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Millions of dollars in debt owed to the Canadian Development Agency were written off, thereby eliminating the long-term debt overhang.
LIAT again enjoyed monopoly status with the elimination of competition from Caribbean Star, Caribbean Sun and Carib Aviation.
The company’s operational footprint and revenue base at least doubled.
However, while the shareholders, board and management promised “sweetness and light”, alas, in LIAT’s case, “the more things change, the more they remain the same”.
The travelling public is subjected to very poor customer service, restive and unhappy employees, poor on-time performance, tacky-looking aircraft and unsanitary aircraft bathrooms which do not even have running water.
Has LIAT done any customer service surveys to determine what the travelling public demands and what the public really thinks of the airline?
All they need do is visit Internet sites such as SKYTRAX to see what the public really thinks of their service.
It is obvious that many things are amiss at LIAT and therefore there are a number of issues that require public comment or explanation from the board and/or shareholders:
Firstly, what has become of the plan to open a base in Trinidad which was trumpeted two years ago?
It was said at the time that this move would save the company millions of dollars annually.
Secondly, all crew overnights have been eliminated for Barbados-based crews servicing the southern islands (St Lucia, St Vincent, Grenada and Trinidad) from the beginning of July, and passed on to the Antigua-based crews, whose overall overnights have therefore increased and who now enjoy the luxury and perks attached to overnights.
Is this the first step towards the elimination of the Barbados base – Barbados being the largest shareholder in LIAT – as well as the benefits which the country enjoys therefrom? Information is that LIAT rents 51 hotel rooms every night for 17 crews consisting of three people each, at an average cost of US$150/room, for a total cost in excess of US$2.5 million per year, and that only the Antigua-based crews benefit.
Thirdly, why was it decided to convert one of LIAT’s Dash 8 passenger aircraft for the purpose of transporting cargo at millions of dollars in expense, when no “supplementary type certificate” existed for this conversion?
And is it true that, after all this expense, the aircraft has now been quietly returned to passenger service and that the likelihood of it ever seeing cargo service is nil?
Fourthly, is a Dash 8-300 being cannibalised to keep the others in the air? Is this a sign that the company is running out of cash yet again?
Fifthly, how frequently are LIAT’s aircraft and engine compressors washed and simple preventative maintenance steps undertaken?
The salt air environment, the presence of volcanic ash and Sahara dust are all highly corrosive factors that increase wear and tear on engines and airframes.
Sixthly, what are the plans to replace the ageing fleet? At 19 years, the average age of the fleet is high and fleet replacement is looming.
Will the taxpayers be asked to fund this too? I write this letter out of genuine concern that taxpayers’ money is being wasted.
As stewards of the peoples’ investment in this public regional monopoly, the Government of Barbados, as the main shareholder, should take the lead in making the board and management accountable for its stewardship.
RUFUS J. LETANG