Monday, April 22, 2024

ALL AH WE IS ONE: REDjet doubts

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REDjet’s decision to suspend its flights until further notice is only the latest in a long series of failed attempts by largely externally owned airlines to overthrow LIAT as the main carrier within the English-speaking Caribbean region. As has happened previously, all the hype about revolutionizing regional travel and destroying government-backed inefficient monopolies are now dashed hopes.  
This failure by REDjet to provide an unbroken service in its short life will no doubt prompt a major leadership rethink in so far as Government’s contribution to the sustainability of LIAT is concerned. The back-tracking has already started. It was interesting to hear a former minister of tourism of St Lucia, well known for his open hostility towards LIAT’s “inefficiencies”, declaring that all airlines today operate at losses.
Further contributing to this rethink is the fact that REDjet itself has reversed the claims upon which its entry was facilitated.  
Among those spoken and unspoken claims were suggestions that the European model of low-cost carriers could be replicated; that an airline could survive without government subsidies; that many of LIAT’s weaknesses were due to its own inefficiencies; and the crowning of it all was the marketing promise that lower-cost air fares could be the order of the day in the Caribbean.  
To many, and particularly the neoliberals in our midst, the expectation was that we would see the concrete demonstration of the superiority of private capital over state-funded enterprise.
REDjet, however, reversed its own claims, with its assertion that it can only survive if it has a “share of the subsidies” offered to other airlines in the region. Whilst the economic basis of REDjet’s call for equity may be sound, the action of suspending all flights appeared to be a risky political and marketing ploy that seemed to be forcing the hand of regional governments whilst testing the patience and loyalty of its existing and potential client base.  
The decision to stop so soon after its over-hyped start sends a signal of instability, temporariness and lack of commitment to the region. Indeed, the response by the Trinidad government that REDjet should not take lightly the privilege of the license offered to it, suggests that at least one government is willing to match REDjet’s play at politics.
REDjet’s decision to suspend its flights has ironically reinforced the value of LIAT as the only carrier with a commitment to the Caribbean’s regional political aspirations.  This “don’t burn your bridges” argument has been LIAT’s main asset.  
Having seen the rise and fall of many a glitzy foreign carrier, LIAT the old donkey continues to plod (like Cornwell) in humble service to the Caribbean people.  
As the Caribbean continues to grapple with the role of travel in forging its civilization, regional governments now have a compelling argument for committing themselves to LIAT’s survival.

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