ST. JOHN’S, Antigua, Apr 18 – The leader of the main opposition United Workers Party (UWP) in St. Lucia, Allan Chastanet, says if his party is victorious in the next general election, it will appoint a new carrier as the island’s national carrier.
Chastanet, an hotelier and former tourism minister, is critical of the services provided by Antigua-based regional airline, LIAT, saying also that the cash-strapped airline should operate in a competitive environment.
The St. Lucian politician said that the decision of the authorities in the sub-regional organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) to prohibit the Trinidad-based Caribbean Airlines “as an example to compete within the region is just absurd,” he said, dismissing suggestions that the airline is being subsidised.
“If LIAT has losses and the governments pay for the losses that’s the same thing as a subsidy,” he said on Observer Radio here.
Chastanet, a former vice president for operations at Air Jamaica, said there was need for other airlines “operating in our region and to give the consumer choices and to help bring down the costs.
He also called for a re-organisation of the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority (ECCA), saying the regulators should ensure safety noting that recent situations have left him questioning the effectiveness of the regulators.
“If their role is for safety then allow other airlines to come in,” he said, adding that “affordability come in if you allow competition.
LIAT is owned by the governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Chastanet said that most of the polices regarding the airline were influenced by politics rather than by business decisions.
Meanwhile, the former president of the Islands Airline Pilots Association (LIALPA), Michael Blackburne, disagrees with Chastanet’s call for LIAT to face competition on its routes.
He said the airline is too important to regional integration to be allowed to go bankrupt. He said former St. Vincent and the Grenadines prime minister Sir James Mitchell a few years ago had advocated the need to make the airline a “regional entity in the true sense.
“LIAT is not going to change except the culture changes. It is a regional airline and it has to be protected…because it can’t be exposed to free enterprise…because it is a vital service,” he told the Observer Radio.