By Vishani Ragobeer
Regional airline LIAT or some other regional airline is much-needed to facilitate free movement within the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Prime Minister of St. Lucia Philip Pierre has said.
Prime Minister Pierre, while delivering remarks at Sunday’s opening ceremony of the 43rd Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM in Suriname, underscored that free movement is hindered by the absence of reliable and affordable transportation infrastructure.
He, however, contended that the intra-regional discussions on the robust sea and air transport have focused too much on extra-regional market forces as opposed to the needs of Caribbean citizens and businesses.
“…in doing so, we have not only closed our air and sea spaces to business expansion and growth for our local investors but we have also surrendered the future of our unification efforts to the whims of service providers whose only interest is profit,” Prime Minister Pierre lamented.
As such, he underscored, “… CARICOM needs LIAT or CARICOM needs a better version of LIAT.”
Unless LIAT, or another regional carrier, facilitates regional travel again, the St. Lucian Head of State believes that regional aspirations of free movement of people will remain elusive.
Easing intra-regional travel has continuously been a goal of CARICOM and LIAT had emerged as an airline carrier that offered much hope.
With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing airports to shut in 2020, as part of efforts to control the spread of the novel coronavirus, financially-challenged LIAT was forced to cease operations.
Even before the pandemic, though, the company was already suffering losses.
In Guyana, after the shutdown of LIAT’s operations, many local passengers and entities were owed large sums of money. It was reported that entities were owed some $80 million; numerous passengers who paid for flights t have not been refunded.
In November 2021, the News Room reported that LIAT was interested in returning to Guyana but the government wanted assurances that quality services will be provided this time.
Though he did not mention these unresolved challenges, the St. Lucian Prime Minister said that his country stands ready to work with CARICOM to find solutions to regional transportation woes.
“… and we will aid any effort to support any regional airline or consortia of airline to service the region,” he said.