Pilots’ Strike Leaves Caribbean Travelers Grounded

Regional airline Leeward Island Air Transport (LIAT) was forced to ground its flights this week becasue of a pilots’ strike, apparently as a reaction to the indefinite suspension of Captain Carl Burke, the leader of the Leeward Islands Airlines Pilots Association (LIALPA).

According to Barbados Today, the suspension was due to Burke's intervention on the behalf of a suspended pilot, Captain Neil Cave: 

…the action against Captain Neil Cave and LIALPA boss Captain Carl Burke followed the grounding of an aircraft for technical repair on Saturday.
Cave, who was scheduled to fly the plane, was apparently not satisfied that the appropriate test procedure was used before bringing the aircraft back into operation.
He also reportedly highlighted discrepancies with the official paperwork and this led to his suspension the same day.
Cave reported the matter to LIALPA and Burke tried to intervene on his behalf during a meeting with Director of Flight Operations Captain George Arthurton, but he was also placed on suspension.
The pilots are now demanding the immediate retraction of both suspensions and a written apology from the airline.

Earlier, Burke had warned of an impending “meltdown” due to ongoing problemsat the airline including what was considered the poorly coordinated upgrade from Dash-8 to ATR planes.

There was a petition being circulated which called for the shareholder governments to completely revamp the management of the airline. (LIAT is collectively owned by the governments of Antigua & Barbuda, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Barbados.)

LIAT released a statement informing the public of the flight cancellations and advising them of the necessary actions to take:

 LIAT wishes to advise its passengers that due to action taken by its airline pilots’ trade union LIALPA, pilots who were scheduled to fly this morning, Tuesday, November 5, 2013, have not reported for duty. The company has not been provided with the required notification of industrial action as required under its agreement with the pilots.

As a result of the action, some of the company’s morning flights have been disrupted. This is also likely to affect service for the remainder of the day.

The statement continued:

LIAT also wishes to advise that passengers who decide to travel but are unable to complete their journey due to the disruption, will not be provided with meals, transportation, hotel accommodation, etc. Passengers with onward connections are advised to contact their respective carriers.

Fifteen flights across the region were affected. According to reports, until the issues with management are dealt with satisfactorily, the pilots will remain off the job. There was a meeting scheduled yesterday between LIAT's management and the union, but there has been no word on the outcome.

Despite being the main regional carrier, LIAT does not have a great reputation for being well run; his was reflected in the reactions on social media, which saw the strike as just the latest example of the company's dysfunction:

@princesshadmoss was hardly surprised at the shutdown:

Robert Tonge thought the company should file for bankruptcy and re-organize:

@ShonelleBaker expressed support for the striking pilots:

Natasha B. was just relieved that she got home before the strike began:

At Barbados Underground, David implored the shareholders (i.e.: the governments) to intervene for the sake of the travelling public:

These disruptions by LIAT simply cannot continue. We are seeing an impact upon the lifes (sic) of Caribbean people in a way which has gone passed (sic) being unacceptable. Surely the Chairman can do better than the pompous and arrogant mouthings which he offered yesterday by way of an apology. Next time he should encourage his Communication Specialist to give him a script.

Enough is enough, will the real shareholders please stand up!

In the Facebook group St. Lucians Aiming for Progress, Dane Gibson suggested that the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas (ALBA) bailout LIAT:

ALBA/PetroCaribe- is an international cooperation organization based on the idea of the social, political and economic integration of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. What better links the islands than a regional airline…… Put ALBA to the test …….Let ALBA bail out LIAT, put and agreement in place to purchase its fuel at the offered bargain prices, reduce operating cost for LIAT, and since their agreements are the best thing since slice bread broker a restructuring for LIAT . Open up the routes to promote travel and tourism with Latin America and the Caribbean. Lets not make it about largess. Lets make it about open transparent agreements, that benefit all the PEOPLE.

Leigh Allan believed that the governments should relinquish control of LIAT:

Government should stay out of LIAT because time and time again government around the world have proven they can't manage businesses. Not too long ago the board of directors gave themselves a huge Pay Increase or Bonus rather than pay cuts or paying their bills. Corporate governance lacking has always been a huge problem in the Caribbean.

Sandra Inglis disagreed

 LIAT started out as an investment by some of the govts in these islands, to generate inter island travel, first of all. Now you're saying these Govts need to get out of LIAT'S affairs? But LIAT is their affair! 

In Antigua, Joya Martin noted that after their initial release, LIAT hasn't given any updates on the situation:

No fb updates from Liat on pilot strike action in almost 48 hours. It would be nice to be pleasantly surprised once in a while. They wouldn't dare to be so lax in communicating if we islanders had a strong alternative choice in regional air travel.

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