The Caribbean Development Bank’s (CDB) board of directors recently approved a technical assistance grant to address a growing air transportation crisis affecting the Eastern Caribbean following the collapse of regional airline LIAT.
The funds, which are to finance consultancy services, the CDB said, will be used to plan urgent provisional measures to re-establish regular air transport services within the sub-region, even as options are reviewed to decide on a more permanent solution in subsequent interventions.
“The support has come in response to a request from the governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Grenada, Guyana, Saint Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines for assistance to examine and address airlift capacity challenges,” a release from the CDB said.
“The consultancy will develop interim solutions to alleviate the current capacity deficit, and define immediate actions required of participating Governments to ensure that regular inter-island air service can be restored with dispatch.
The consultant will also be required to provide project management services, to support the implementation of the agreed solutions,” it added.
The void in regional air connectivity has emerged since the collapse of LIAT, the main intra-island air carrier in the Eastern Caribbean, worsened by the novel coronavirus pandemic and its subsequent severe curtailment of services.
The cash-strapped regional air carrier which saw its financial woes exacerbated since the pandemic forced major shareholding countries to liquidate the debt-ridden entity and transfer its assets to a new entity, LIAT 2020 (Antigua).
The airline currently operates about 50 flights a week, 90 per cent below the almost 500 flights weekly it once did, prior to the pandemic and before its demise.
As a result, the significantly reduced airlift capacity has resulted in a chronic lack of access for air cargo and passengers, also affecting tourism, trade, employment, business, and social relations.
According to CDB VP Operations Isaac Solomon, the intra-regional movement of people and goods is integral to regional cooperation and integration, which was what propelled the CDB to place high priority on supporting the provision of dependable and cost-effective air transportation within the region.
“The proposed technical assistance will provide member governments with feasible options for urgent improvement in airlift capacity and make gender responsive and socially
inclusive recommendations on the nature and proposed structure of an aviation solution going forward, a costed and fully funded business plan, as well, as staffing considerations for implementation,” he said.
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