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LIFE AFTER LIAT

Regional 07 Feb, 2024 Follow News

LIFE AFTER LIAT

By Michael Jarvis, London, UK

The exit of the regional airline LIAT (Leeward Islands Air Transport 1974 Ltd) from the skies of the Caribbean has left a void in regional air travel with wider implications that have already begun to reverberate across the region. LIAT’s final flight was on January 24th.

Although it was expected - during 2023 LIAT was down to one functioning plane - that final flight has evoked an outflow of feelings of nostalgia, especially throughout the Eastern Caribbean islands.

Started in Montserrat in 1956 with flights between Antigua and Montserrat, LIAT became a standard bearer for inter-island air travel throughout the Caribbean for the next 68 years.

However, in the latter part of its history, the airline which had since become a government-owned entity suffered a series of financial setbacks that ultimately led to its demise.

The void left by LIAT has already started to see moves by airline operators to fill the gap and provide the vital inter-island link for business, tourism, official and personal travel and trade.

But even long before LIAT’s last flight, the writing was on the wall. As the airline struggled with its finances and inter-government tussles over funding, its competitors had already started targeting destinations where LIAT had cut back or suspended its services.

The skies of the Eastern Caribbean are crisscrossed daily by many mainly small airline island-hopping (or puddle-jumping in aviation jargon) companies. But the passenger seat capacity and flight schedules offered by LIAT had already started to feel the strain.

Larger carriers have recently indicated or have otherwise started offering more inter-island flights, some more aggressively than others.

Turks and Caicos-based Inter-Caribbean has made a huge investment into aircraft and route expansion, likewise the Trinidad-based Caribbean Airlines which is jointly owned by the governments of Trinidad & Tobago and Jamaica.

The UK’s Virgin Airlines has also announced a limited inter-island connection between Barbados, St Vincent and Grenada.

Meanwhile, the Dutch Caribbean St Maarten government-owned Winair which flies mainly between the Dutch Islands has been expanding its services to other destinations in the Eastern Caribbean with the addition of larger aircraft to its fleet.

Other inter-island commuter services have been available from French Caribbean airline companies mainly within their regional sphere.

Other operators have entered the field with limited services between targeted destinations, among them Cayman Airways with recently introduced flights to Barbados.

The outpouring of sentiment over the demise of LIAT will no doubt continue and possibly intensify as the reality of the permanence of the absence of the equally loved and maligned airline takes hold.

A fixture in the skies and airports of the Eastern Caribbean for over six decades, LIAT was also often the target of umbrage over flight delays leading to the pun on its acronym - Leave Island Any Time.

There has been speculation of a new LIAT - LIAT 2020 - linked to the government of Antigua and Barbuda, but that has yet to materialise.

In the meantime, inter-island travellers in the Eastern Caribbean, despite having to adjust to a scaled-down LIAT in recent years, are confronted with the reality that LIAT is now history and its alternative or replacement remains uncertain at best.

The challenges to inter-island airlift in the Eastern Caribbean has been a much-debated, widely researched and heavily invested undertaking by governments and investors over the years.

With LIAT now confined to memories - and memes - the future of inter-island air travel in the Caribbean now requires first-class attention given its importance to the economies of the countries in the region.


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