"LIAT 3" meet

KINGSTOWN, St Vincent, September 26, 2006 – Three Caribbean prime ministers are due to start talks here this morning  that will signal the opening and shape of negotiations for a merger between the two dominant intra-regional air carriers – Caribbean Star and LIAT.

Both have found that dividing up the regional air transport pie has not been profitable. At least on the part of LIAT, the intense competition has been put a demand on taxpayers in selected Caribbean states.

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves has the portfolio of regional air transport in the quasi-Cabinet of the Caribbean Community and Single Market (CARICOM). He has had initial talks with Chairman of Caribbean Star, billionaire Texas businessman Allen Stanford.

Prime Minister Gonsalves told journalists yesterday that talks were at an exploratory stage. He confirmed a telephone conversation with Stanford whom he said outlined a concept. That concept will be the focus of talks this morning with Prime Minister Owen Arthur of Barbados and Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer of Antigua and Barbuda. That concept has not been revealed.

In Barbados Chairman of LIAT, Dr Jean Holder, confirmed “informal” talks with Stanford.

Caribbean Star and its sister airline Caribbean Sun have been trimming their routes and frequency of service as well as LIAT which is set to lay off 150 workers, predominantly in Antigua and Barbados this weekend in order to arrest its US$180 million in debt.

“We are flying to too many places at one time, we have too much capacity and we need to take on a rational view of the market,” Chief Executive Officer, Mark Darby, according to a report in the Searchlight newspaper here.

“(The retrenchment of workers) is a very painful and expensive process, we would rather ask people to volunteer and it’s better than asking people to go. Coming into this business a couple months ago I was to have LIAT on a commercial footing and that is what exactly I am doing,” he said.