Bridgetown, Barbados – May 20, 2007
By Rickey Singh
Do not expect the principal shareholder governments of LIAT to back any move to have American Eagle flying inter-island routes in competition with the regional island-hopping carrier.
That was the firm warning on Friday from St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, current chairman of Caricom who has lead responsibility for regional air transport and civil aviation matters among the Community’s Heads of Government.
Gonsalves, just back from Cuba where he was undergoing medical treatment following a traffic accident at home, said that the recently announced move by St Lucia to introduce American Eagle, perhaps by July, to fly between that country and Barbados, and possibly later to Trinidad and Tobago, came as “quite a big surprise and disappointment” to him.
He said there was no consultation on this matter by the St Lucia government, which is a minority shareholder in LIAT and has had representation on the airline’s Board of Directors.
The announcement came recently from St Lucia’s Minister of Tourism and Civil Aviation Allen Chastanet, without details on how the arrangement would work to the advantage of regional air travellers.So far there has been no reaction from Port of Spain where, if plans proceed, state-owned Caribbean Airlines could face competition from American Eagle on flights between St Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago.
“We, the major shareholder governments of LIAT (Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda and St Vincent and the Grenadines)”, said Gonsalves, “cannot view this development in isolation from what we are collectively seeking to achieve in regional functional cooperation and creation of a single economic space…”
He told the Express that from conversations he has had with Prime Ministers Owen Arthur and Baldwin Spencer, it was clear that his Barbadian and Antiguan counterparts also felt strongly about the introduction of competition against LIAT on inter-island routes by American Eagle-a subsidiary of American Airlines.
Gonsalves said that to encourage such a development would not only be counter-productive to plans for the envisaged economic viability of LIAT now that its merger with Caribbean Star was being completed.
Such a course would also have “negative consequences” for wider initatives on regional air and sea transportation as well as affecting the realisation of arrangements for the emerging Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME).
Prime Minister Gonsalves said a statement on the implications of American Eagle being designated to fly inter-island routes would be forthcoming at the upcoming 23rd special meeting of Caricom’s Transportation Ministers in Kingstown which he will host and chair.
Subsequently, the issue is to be considered at a meeting next week, also in Kingstown, of the Caricom Bureau-the management committee of the Community between Heads of Government conferences.
Representatives of LIAT’s major shareholder governments will take the opportunity of that Bureau meeting to have a special encounter on St Lucia’s proposal to involve American Eagle on intra-regional routes.