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LIAT 1974’s last flight is just two weeks away

The announcement came through a formal letter from the court-appointed administrator, Cleveland Seaforth, to the airline’s employees last week.

After about five decades under the leadership of Caribbean governments, the Leeward Islands Air Transport Services (LIAT) 1974 will cease to exist. Operations are expected to officially end on January 24, 2024 according to a signed letter issued by the court-appointed administrator, Cleveland Seaforth to employees.

“After careful consideration and evaluation of the present operations, a decision has been taken by the Court Appointed Administrator to permanently cease all commercial flying operations as of close of business January 24, 2024,” the letter stated. 

LIAT 1974’s final commercial flight is anticipated to take place on January 22nd, covering the route from Antigua to St Maarten, to Tortola, and returning to Antigua. 

The conclusion of operations not only signifies the end of the longest-serving regional airline but also leaves approximately 160 employees unemployed. The cessation will result in the termination of contracts for 80 workers by February 5, 2024, while fewer than 100 retained employees will face redundancy.

It is not yet clear if or how severance payments and other employee entitlements will be disbursed as this will depend on the company’s calculation of the value of its current assets.

Employees will receive information about their severance pay, vacation pay, retroactive pay, and outstanding salaries in the coming weeks. The company has expressed its commitment to securing the best outcome for the employees in line with legal and contractual obligations.

In addition, LIAT announced last week that it would cancel all flights from the 25th to the 29th of January and refund all travellers.

Meetings are to be held with management and staff in the coming days to finalise the cessation. 

The airline has come a long way from being founded by the late Kittitian Sir Frank Delisle on 20 October 1956, when it began flying with a single Piper Apache operating between Antigua and Montserrat. More than a decade later, the governments of Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Dominica took over as shareholders of the airline.

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The COVID-19 pandemic proved to be the final blow to LIAT’s profitability, forcing the airline to contemplate liquidation in November 2020. 

Prime Minister Gaston Browne revealed then that LIAT experienced a loss of approximately EC$12 million in 2019, but the pandemic exacerbated the losses beyond the means of the shareholder governments to subsidize.

The Browne administration successfully stalled the liquidation for three years, allowing LIAT to operate limited flights across the Caribbean. Despite facing financial challenges, LIAT 1974 managed to resume limited operations in November 2020, supporting regional connectivity with a reduced schedule. 

Browne now hopes to launch LIAT 2020 to replace the 1974 version. This new version of LIAT will be backed by a 70% shareholding from Nigerian airline Air Peace and the remaining 30 per cent from the Antigua and Barbuda government.

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