As someone who has championed intra Caribbean travel for over 40 years and invested literally hundreds of thousands of Dollars of our own money promoting, what for Barbados is still just about our third largest source market, it gives me no pleasure in witnessing the dramatic decline in regional arrival numbers.
For the first eight months of this year our Caricom (including Trinidad and Tobago) stay over visitors are down by 6,686 persons.
There is probably very little I can add to the many industry professionals and travellers comments made about LIAT over the years, but initially thought that I had misheard one of our policymakers recently stating that, among the reasons why the numbers were down, was due to the airline operating smaller aircraft.
“A number of aircraft are still listed as ‘stored’. Did the destruction of engineering, maintenance and other critical records in the hangar fire prevent the saleable realisation of these assets?”
It sounded so wrong that I looked up a recognised aircraft fleet website and according to Planespotters LIAT currently operate 4 ATR (Avions de Transport Regional) 42-600’s, 4 ATR 72-600 planes and a yet to be confirmed number of Bombardier/de Havilland Dash 8 – 300 equipment.
I did ask LIAT’s Head of Corporate Communications for clarification, but in the week until this column was published, had not heard back. Fleet Reduction
From a recent media release a company spokesperson indicated the carrier has planned to reduce its fleet to nine aircraft in 2015 from the current 11.
Therefore it’s only logical that not one of the new planes is to be withdrawn unless in its present precarious financial position, they became unable to meet the lease payments.
The ATR 42 seats 48 persons and the ATR 72, 68 passengers. The Dash 8 – 300 seats 50 persons. So to imply that they have lost traffic due to smaller aircraft is entirely erroneous.
In fact the 9 remaining aircraft overall will actually have 56 more seats collectively that a similar number of Dash 8’s.
Again I would plead with those entrusted in disseminating information about our vital tourism industry to be better informed. Or alternatively surround themselves with people better briefed on the sector to avoid further confusion and misunderstanding.
So with a projected fleet reduction of a further 20 per cent, almost 90 per cent of which being less being two years old, will the reductions in operating costs promised by the introduction of these new aircraft finally become a reality?
Another question to be answered is has the fire at the company’s headquarters back in June 2012, which at the time was described by a senior official as a ‘catastrophe’ and estimated to have cost EC$150 million.
What part has this played and did it further delayed fiscal ‘revival’?
No mention has been made insurance?
A number of aircraft are still listed as ‘stored’. Did the destruction of engineering, maintenance and other critical records in this fire prevent the saleable realisation of these assets?
The most recent media discussions mention ‘staff reductions’ and it must be clear to all involved that no commercially driven entity in our current environment could possibly sustain up to nearly 100 employees for each operational plane.
Could this be a benchmark time in LIAT’s long history? With effective management, cost curtailment, transparency and accountability, could the shareholders (taxpayers) finally witness the road to recovery?
Many of us desperately hope so, as clearly we need a healthy profitable regional carrier if we stand any chance of restoring intra Caribbean arrival numbers.