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New LIAT aircraft land at V.C Bird airport

LIAT20 E-145 aircraft arrive in Antigua from Lagos, Nigeria

Two E-145 jets which departed from Lagos, Nigeria, circled the V.C Bird International Airport (VCBIA) on Tuesday afternoon, a sign that the launch of LIAT 2020 is drawing near. 

Outfitted in white and embellished with LIAT20 in blue straddled with an orange sun, and the moniker “ The Pride of Caribbean” affixed to the planes’ tip, the new brand of aircraft made its entrance into Antigua. 

The aircraft, however symbolic of the establishment of new a LIAT, is meant to show the seriousness of which the Government of Antigua and Barbuda has taken the task of improving regional air travel. But they will only be wet-leased to the fleet of ATR 72-600 aircraft after the Air Operator Certification (AOC) process has been approved by the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority (ECCAA). 

“I’m gonna keep you guys guessing for a while but it is around the corner,” said Air Peace Caribbean Ltd in Antigua CEO, Hafsah Abdul-Salam, referring to the timeline for official flights.

She explained, “We’re just to the final phase of our AOC process and all things being equal we’re hoping that we can close that final phase next week” … “once we’ve got that out of the way, then we can start to ramp up all of our commercial readiness for launch.”

In comparison to the current ATR aircraft which has 78 passenger seats, the E-145s can hold up to 60 passengers. And because this type of aircraft has never been flown and registered within the Eastern Caribbean airspace, LIAT 2020’s owners will have to prove to ECCAA that it has support staff who are able to maintain those aircraft. A third larger plane – a 128-seater aircraft – will eventually join the fleet.

Ambassador Daven Joseph, who has been leading negotiations for LIAT 2020, described Tuesday as a “great day” in the annals of history. “I am very happy that I could be a part of that process to ensure that Antigua and Barbuda don’t lose such an important institution.”

“It’s a proud moment for all of us here in Antigua and Barbuda,” added Tourism Minister Charles Fernandez. He said the complete fleet will have about seven aircraft which will allow LIAT to expand its service offering. “There are so many people in the region that have missed LIAT and have called for LIAT, so it is a great day not only for Antigua and Barbuda but for all of us in the region,” he told state TV. 

“If you had asked me where we would have gotten US$20 million as a nation to invest in the establishment of LIAT 2020, I don’t believe I would have had a precise answer. I probably would have said to you that God will provide,” remarked Prime Minister Gaston Browne who said a total of US$20 million as minority shareholders in the private entity.

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So far, the government has placed US$12.1 million in an escrow account to purchase three LIAT 1974 planes and plans to spend an additional US$10 million on repairs.

LIAT 2020 vs LIAT1974 design comparison

Severance for LIAT 1974 workers

Prime minister Browne has made another plea for former LIAT workers to accept his government’s compassionate deal for settlement. He told hundreds of former and existing employees that they should work directly with the government to settle the severance debt. 

“My administration is committed to covering the 32% severance representing the shareholding that my government had in LIAT at the time,” he said.

He claimed that the Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union (ABWU) which represents those employees was an “impediment” to closing the severance settlement, as he urged the workers to negotiate directly with his administration.

“It will require the maturity of the staff to look beyond the partisan politics of the union and to negotiate directly without government.”

The settlement is a mixture of cash, bonds and property and is valued at around US$3.7 million (EC$10 million).

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