AS SEVERAL international carriers cut flights into the region, LIAT's Jean Holder is urging a meeting of CARICOM Heads of Government to discuss the burning issue of air transportation's critical role in supporting the CARICOM Single Market and Economy.
Holder made the call amid concerns that come March 2013, American Eagle will cease operations into the region; British Airways will cease operating to San Juan, Puerto Rico, after March 2013 and Virgin Airlines will cease operating its summer programme to Tobago in 2013 unless the government there pays them one £million.
Even as these carriers pull out, the region's aviation operators, such as Caribbean Airlines and LIAT are struggling to survive.
"A service that is critical to the survival of the Single Market and Economy must be the concern of the entire community," said Holder, while cautioning that the focus of the meeting must not be about blaming the airlines, which have given a total of 200 years of service to the region and the countries which have subsidised the rest of the region.
"It must be about what is needed to get regional transportation right and what and how much each country, which is a beneficiary of the services, will contribute to the cause in its own best interests."
In a presentation to LIAT shareholders in Bridgetown, Barbados, last Friday night, the airline expert stated that the agenda must be wide enough to include a number of aviation issues, which are related to the proper functioning of regional air transportation.
Holder's other recommendations include the idea of the CARICOM airline alliances, which he said must be once more placed on the table. A committee, including representatives of the management of the carriers, is be established without delay to examine the feasibility of this concept, he argued.
In addition, Holder wants these deliberations to take place with regard to the articles of the CARICOM Multilateral Agreement concerning the operation of air services within the Caribbean.
One of things Holder is not expecting to come out of the meeting is the recommendation of privatisation of the regional carriers. "The much-touted view that privatisation is the answer to the problems of intra-Caribbean air transportation is demonstrably false," was the stinging criticism that came from him.
Holder referenced that the privatisation of air services such as Air Jamaica, BWIA and LIAT in the mid-1990s, was a miserable failure.
He, however, admitted that Caribbean carriers must take the hard decisions needed to put their own houses in order, and so must all their partners.