Inter-Caribbean airline Liat Ltd only has enough cash to function for the next 10 days and will face a shut down if Caricom does not intervene. The faltering airline needs an immediate cash injection of some US$5 million to keep flying,
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said after returning from the 30th Caricom meeting in St Kitts and Nevis.
Speaking moments after landing at the Piarco International Airport, Rowley told the media that the Liat shareholders said they needed to act with urgency in order to keep the airline afloat.
“Currently, part of Liat’s problems is that Liat is flying uneconomic routes with loads that are heavily subsidised. If the airline is to remain flying to countries that have routes like that, the shareholders are saying that such countries will have to guarantee a minimum revenue stream to the airline or the airline would cease to fly those routes,” Rowley said.
“As I speak to you now, I do not know what the situation is for T&T.
“If the routes coming into to Trinidad and Tobago are uneconomic and the receiving country requires the service to continue then we may or may not have to enter an agreement.”
Currently, T&T has a one per cent share in Liat so although the country would not be financially impacted if the airline goes belly-up, Rowley said the failure of the airline could still negatively impact the country.
He said one of Liat’s major cost centres was airline maintenance.
“I have agreed to allow them to talk with CAL (Caribbean Airlines) to see whether there is any economic benefit of cooperation between CAL and Liat from that standpoint,” he said.
Staying on the topic of inter-island travel, Rowley said the Caricom heads also discussed the viability of a passenger sea ferry to service the islands up the Caribbean.
“T&T was able to give our experience on the cost of operating such a service, which is heavily subsidised because they were talking about a fast ferry service,” he said.
Rowley said he told the government heads that a fast ferry service was expensive but another type of sea vessel might be more viable.
“We are still looking at the possibility of some kind of sea ferry service,” he said.
Rowley said the group also discussed security as it relates to inter-island travel, which included adding a US$2-3 surcharge on travel tickets between the Caricom islands.
“Throughout the region, all our countries are facing significant upsurge in crime,” he said.
The PM said there was also a call for countries to give priority to the Advanced Passenger Information System which monitors passengers coming into the region.
“This has to be paid for to make sure we have some element of control on matters of regional security,” Rowley said.
He said not all the Caricom members are on board with the funding of regional security.
“So we have been discussing again, from meeting to meeting, this question of applying passenger surcharge and that money be used directly for supporting the budget required to fund the necessary security apparatus that I just mentioned,” he said.
“Trinidad and Tobago will be paid up.”
On the international front, Rowley said the Caricom group is pushing back against the European Union’s (EU) broad blacklisting of Caribbean nations as havens for tax evaders.
“They have been arbitrarily blacklisting Caribbean countries and accusing us of being tax havens and sheltering money launderers,” Rowley said.
“We believe that this type of arbitrary action on the part of European body is either out of absolute ignorance or disregard for our rights and we have decided to raise our diplomatic response to it across the world to indicate that we are not prepared to take that kind of treatment.”