The politics in Liat!!!

If there is one thing that everyone can agree on is that LIAT needs help. The airline has lurched from challenge to challenge and crisis to crisis and there appears to be no end in sight.

LIAT is actually an odd organisation and situation – everyone seems to know the airline needs help but nobody quite knows what to do. The situation is even more frustrating for those working at the airline.

Talk to any LIAT employee and they will be able to list numerous problems within the organisation and more often than not, they also will give their opinion on how to address those problems.

Unfortunately, that conversation usually ends with a defeated sigh … an apparent sign of frustrated resignation that they can do little to nothing to change what is going on.

That defeated sigh is usually attached to a heavy dose of criticism of the management at LIAT and claims that they do not listen to the people that know what they are talking about. It is a conversation that is repeated over and over and there seems to be no end.

Many times, we are left in amazement when we hear tales of decisions that are made without consultation, that affect people and the airline. We are left to wonder how, after all of these years, LIAT (1974) Limited cannot be in a better position than it is in.

For proof that something radical needs to be done, we need only reference the recent comments coming from the President and Vice-President of the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots’ Association (LIALPA).

On the heels of the announcement that LIAT was less than three months away from hiring a new Chief Executive Officer (CEO), the President of LIALPA, Carl Burke, said that what LIAT needs right now is not “a CEO with training wheels”. It is not clear if he was directing the comment towards the acting CEO, Julie Reifer-Jones, but he did say that the airline needs a CEO who has experience. He described that person as someone who could handle what is taking place right now, and somebody who could stand up to the heads of governments.

And let’s face it, there is a lot taking place at LIAT right now. One of the most important is filling the vacant CEO position that became open when the former CEO, David Evans, resigned just shy of his second anniversary, earlier this year. The CEO revolving door is now preparing to welcome a third CEO in less than four years. Can there be any hope for stability and continuity if the people who play a large part in determining the company’s direction jump ship so regularly (or are pushed)?

When it comes to management, the Vice President of LIALPA, Neil Cave, pulled no punches when he delivered this politically correct assessment, that the one constant in LIAT has been its management. He said, “A lot of things have changed, but in my opinion … if various things have been changed and the airline is still in the position that it is in, then the constant that hasn’t been changed needs to be looked at.” That firmly lays the blame at the feet of management and it is an argument that, on the face of it, has merit.

It actually reminds us of the famous Albert Einstein quote which says, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” It would appear that we keep doing the same things over and over again with LIAT (and its management) hoping for better results. That has not happened.

Management aside (as impossible as that is to consider), probably one of the most vexing issues for staff is the lack of consultation. The LIALPA president said as much when he talked about that topic and said that the union would no longer endorse “adhoc business decision” made by the LIAT shareholders or its board.

Using Grenada as an example, Burke said, “I’ve yet to see what the impact would be on us removing those flights from Grenada; it must amount to significant loss and no one from LIAT’s management can yet say to this organisation that we’ll be either profiting or losing by making this decision.”

He claimed that the decision was made without consultation or route analysis and “was just made in a shareholder’s office.”

It is really a shame that LIAT seems to be fractured within the organisation while, at the same time, it suffers the challenges that come from its role of being the regional airline. Heads of government and its shareholders openly bicker about the airline while customers complain; leaving the staff on the front lines to pick up the pieces.

The time to fix things at LIAT is long overdue and from where we sit, much of this can be accomplished through consultation with the staff. Obviously, they cannot solve the big issues related to shareholding and regulatory impacts, but we are sure they will be able to point the powers that be in the right direction.

Already, LIALPA has recommended the airline move to a 51/49 percent ownership structure, where the majority is held privately so as to minimise the politics in the company. It is definitely something that should be considered.

The Caribbean without LIAT would be a different place, and a future without LIAT would be difficult to imagine. There should be no reason why the airline should not be a profitable entity providing great service to our communities.

Wait. Sorry, there is a reason … politics!

John Kenneison

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