By Kenton X. Chance
CMC Caribbean Correspondent
KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, September 9, CMC – The St. Vincent and the Grenadines government is seeking an urgent meeting with the management of the regional airline, LIAT, following the airline’s poor service to the island.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines is one four shareholder governments of the Antigua-based regional airline and the Dr. Ralph Gonsalves administration wants the meeting to be held, here, by September 18.
In a letter to the airline, the government said the meeting will allow Kingstown to “have a common understanding, with a view to enhancing the service to St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“It is time for LIAT to get its act and attitude, towards the travelling public of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, together,” Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of National Security in Kingstown, Godfred Pompey, told the airline in a September 4 letter.
Pompey told Diane Shurland, LIAT’s Antigua-based legal counsel, that once LIAT makes a request for the E.T. Joshua Airport to remain open beyond the 11:30 p.m. agreed operating hours, his ministry will bill LIAT for staff overtime.
In the letter, Pompey complained about the “ongoing scheduling problems and cancellations facing the travelling public of St. Vincent and the Grenadines”.
He said the situation was “further exacerbated” on Saturday, September 3, when LIAT flight LI738, on which the island’s national football team was travelling to Trinidad, en route to its destination, “when in the wisdom of someone in operations, Antigua directed the Aircraft to return to the E.T. Joshua Airport”.
The aircraft was instructed to return to St. Vincent with the understanding that the team would have been accommodated on the early morning flight to Trinidad and Tobago, where the players had a 6:15 a.m (local time) connection on Sunday, September 4, on Copa Airlines.
“Up to our discussion on Sunday 10:15 a.m., the team was still stranded in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” Pompey wrote in the letter, which was copied to chair of LIAT’s board of directors, Jean Holder, and Isaac Solomon, who represents the Gonsalves government on the board.
The team left St. Vincent, Sunday evening, and was stranded in Trinidad and only arrived in Guatemala late Tuesday night, about 24 hours before their football World Cup qualifier match against that country.
Pompey said that since June, LIAT’s service to St. Vincent and the Grenadines “has been deteriorating with no improvement in sight”.
“As a major shareholder, St. Vincent and the Grenadines has been receiving the crumbs in terms of service. Officers at LIAT are now taking pleasure in shifting the blame of LIAT’s poor service to the Ministry and, by extension, the management of E.T. Joshua Airport, making demands to keep our airport open at times beyond 2:00 a.m. This is highly unacceptable since some category of staff is required to report to work at the opening of the airport at 5:30 a.m.,” Pompey said.
He said that from observation, LIAT’s management, including operations, “is taking St. Vincent and the Grenadines for granted and abusing our accommodation”.
“Despite repeated communication, the demands for extended operating hours at E.T. Joshua Airport are being unbearable and unreasonable. This situation is not only placing extra strain on staff, but also increasing the frustration of the travelling public. One is now questioning the frequency of these late night flights and cancellation of services to St. Vincent and the Grenadines to determine whether or not they are deliberate,” Pompey wrote.
The public servant’s letter comes months after Prime Minister Gonsalves, on February 25, wrote to then Chief Executive Officer of LIAT, David Evans, who had, in a letter one week earlier, requested “a further advance of EC$810,000 (One EC dollar =US$0.37 cents) by St. Vincent and the Grenadines”.
In response Prime Minister Gonsalves said St. Vincent and the Grenadines was not well served by the current schedule of the airline and that the island can be considered to “be in a condition akin to that of an abused spouse, in which commitment is taken for granted, amidst shabby treatment”.
Earlier this month, Gonsalves also raised with LIAT the issue of a lack of adequate service and poor scheduling to the island.
The complaints by the Gonsalves — who is chair of LIAT’s shareholder governments — comes even as he has complained about the failure of other governments across the region to invest in the cash-strapped airline.
In April, Evan resigned as LIAT’s CEO after Dominica’s Prime Minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, requested an urgent meeting of the shareholders of the regional airline and demanded an immediate investigation into the cancellation of a morning flight into Dominica on April 8.
The cancellation reportedly affected over 40 passengers in Dominica.
Skerrit said he was utterly disgusted at the shabby manner in which Dominica was being treated by the airline, saying it “clearly appears to be an awful, negative attitude towards Dominica by senior personnel at LIAT”.
“I am warning, now, that this must stop,” the Dominican leader wrote.