Over the last few weeks I have been trying to understand the logic behind the collection of decisions made by the Board and senior management of LIAT (1974) Ltd, the consequences of which has been to create an unprecedented operational debacle. Even the CEO was describing the situation with emotive words like the ‘perfect storm’ and ‘meltdown’. While I admire Captain Brunton’s attempts to explain the circumstances behind the cause of what can only be called a state of chaos, there are still many questions that remain unanswered.
First, let us go back to the choice of the new replacement aircraft. Why the ATR’s?
When the Bombardier Q400 is faster, offering quicker turnarounds (more flights per day), has a substantially greater range, which would allow the carrier to operate to some of the new routes mentioned and perhaps even more relevant, required limited pilot retraining. There may have been overwhelming reasons why the ATR planes where chosen over the Q400’s, but surely we are owed an explanation? If LIAT had a history of profitability and that for a large part of it’s lifetime had not relied on the grace and favour of the Caribbean taxpayers, it might be different. But with a quoted ‘accumulated deficit of EC$344 million (around US$127 million) at the end of 2012’, any hope of achieving stand-alone viability, in the foreseeable future, appears an almost impossible dream. Yet elected administrations have been persuaded to guarantee loans and leases, amounting to tens of millions of dollars. If these cannot be repaid, then we will be the ones saddled with the debts.
The next questionable decision is why did an almost brand new aircraft, in service for around four weeks, need a new engine? I understand from Pratt and Witney, the manufacturers, that this is highly unusual. Again, perhaps this is a partial penalty for changing aircraft type. Would LIAT not be compensated financially for the week the equipment was out of service, allowing the ticket holder to receive some recompense?
Thirdly, knowing the challenges there already was with existing pilots not being able to fly the ATR’s, until extensive retraining, why charter one of the new planes to ferry the President of Taiwan around the region? What is most remarkable is that the single largest shareholder (Barbados) of LIAT does not even diplomatically recognise the Republic of China (ROC).
The Government of Taiwan indirectly owns China Airlines and it’s subsidiary Mandarin Airlines, who collectively operate over 80 aircraft. These include eight, ERJ 190 regional jets, each with a seating capacity of 104 seats. Any one of these could have performed the functions required by President Ma Ying-jeou, with maybe the only doubt being the current SVD airport (E. T. Joshua), and it’s limited runway length.
In the very unlikely event, China Airlines could not have supplied a suitable aircraft, then one of the three privately owned Taiwan carriers (Eva Air, Uni-Air or TransAsia Airways with a combined fleet of another 85 planes, including ATR’s and Dash 8’s, could have stepped forward.
Our Government has also announced that ‘we’ will be relying on the People’s Republic of China to finance and engineer the re-opening of our largest hotel to hopefully reinstate at least 500 jobs. Knowing the decades of animosity that has existed between the ROC and mainland China, was it a wise move to risk possible alienation ,by giving the President of Taiwan, preferential treatment?
As the Taiwanese funded terminal building at Arygle airport nears completion, we have yet to witness any movement at the former Almond Beach Village.