Shareholders discuss LIAT’s future at Barbados meeting

(L-R) Prime Ministers Dr. The Hon. Baldwin Spencer; Dr. The Hon. Ralph Gonsalves; and The Hon. Freundel Stuart QC, during Tuesday’s meeting at the Hilton Barbados Hotel.

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, August 24, 2011 – LIAT’s three major shareholder Prime Ministers – The Honourable Freundel Stuart QC of Barbados; Dr. The Honourable Baldwin Spencer of Antigua and Barbuda; and Dr. The Honourable Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent and the Grenadines – met in Barbados on Tuesday with members of LIAT’s Board of Directors and Management to discuss the way forward for the regional carrier.

Tuesday’s meeting was one of the regular quarterly meetings of the Company and its three major shareholders. LIAT Chairman, Dr. Jean Holder presented the shareholders with a strategic overview of the carrier, highlighting LIAT’s economic importance to its shareholders and to the region. He noted that for 2010 LIAT had moved almost 100,000 passengers to Antigua, almost 170,000 to Barbados and almost 95,000 to St. Vincent.

The Chairman noted that LIAT’s taxes and other direct commercial payments from the airline for 2010 to its principal shareholders was nearly EC$7 million in Antigua and almost BDS$20 million in the case of Barbados. He said that while information was still being compiled, in St. Vincent and The Grenadines revenues from LIAT ticket taxes alone amounted to more than EC$1 million.

Chairman Holder pointed out that in all these countries these payments represented only a part of the economic contribution of the carrier and that from an aviation perspective, LIAT represented the main user of airport services and contributed to airport revenues in a number of direct and indirect ways. He pointed out that LIAT was also a major employer at its shareholders’ airports and employed both staff and contract workers.

The LIAT Chairman also announced a planned review of certain routes now served by the carrier, noting that LIAT could be forced to pull off routes which are not profitable unless the governments or other stakeholders in those countries provided revenue and/or marketing support as was often done for a number of international carriers. Meantime, LIAT’s Chief Executive Officer Brian Challenger and other senior Company executives presented the shareholders with a detailed report on operational matters including an update on the financial health of the Company and its industrial relations.

The shareholders noted the continuing financial difficulties facing the Company including continuing high oil prices and continuing weaknesses in the regional and international economy. An all embracing Recovery Plan developed by management and which targets both revenue and cost components of the business was endorsed by the shareholders.The shareholder heads expressed their concerns at the present state of industrial relations at the Company and agreed on certain measures from the Chairman and management for promoting an improved industrial relations climate within the organisation.

This included a proposed meeting with LIAT’s unions in September to discuss the strategic future of the Company and the role of union-management relations in advancing the interests of regional air transportation. A set of specific responses to the industrial dispute in Grenada were also agreed. The shareholders reviewed the present competitive situation involving air transport in the region. It was noted LIAT had seen some reduction in its loads to a number of destinations particularly in its critical southern network.

The company’s efforts to respond constructively to these challenges through a range of pricing and scheduling initiatives were noted. In looking at the competition situation overall, the issue of fuel subsidies to airlines and the adverse competitive impact which this had on LIAT and other carriers was discussed and the possibility raised for having these matters resolved within the context of the CARICOM single market framework.

The LIAT shareholder Heads reiterated the importance of the Company’s re-fleeting efforts as a critical element of its programme to improve efficiency of its services and to enhance its competitive position in the marketplace. A programme of action is expected to be presented shortly to the Heads outlining the possible time-lines and scenarios for introduction of new aircraft into the Company’s fleet.

The shareholders reviewed and endorsed recommendations from the Company’s management for establishment of a Pension Fund for LIAT employees and noted the Company’s on-going dialogue with its unions towards this end. The next quarterly meeting of the shareholders is expected to take place before the end of the year.

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