BRIDGETOWN, Barbados: The twin-engine turboprop Dash-8 aircraft that has been a staple for the Leeward Islands Air Transport (LIAT) for more than 20 years could soon be a thing of the past for the Antigua-based airline.
At a meeting of the majority shareholders of LIAT here last week, a unanimous decision was made to renew the airline’s ageing fleet, but with more modern aircraft.
“The company will now proceed to discussions with the manufacturer of the first type selected,” Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, prime minister of St. Vincent & the Grenadines, said in a prepared statement. “The discussions are intended to consummate in an agreement for the acquisition of new aircraft for the airline.
“For a number of reasons, we do not wish to declare just which aircraft type has been chosen. It would also be inappropriate at this stage before discussion with the manufacturers to give an indication of the decision of the company in the selection of an aircraft type.”
While the company’s shareholders, Gonsalves and his fellow prime ministers, Freundel Stuart, of Barbados and Dr. Baldwin Spencer, of Antigua & Barbuda, are keeping the decision close to their chests, the speculation is that it might be some type of regional jet that has a greater capacity to allow the airline to expand beyond its current network of 21 destinations.
Airline officials met with representatives from Bombardier, Embraer and ATR (Avions de Transport Régional) last year to review possible aircraft options.
Following last week’s meeting, Chairman of the airline, Dr. Jean Holder, said the fleet renewal would begin with the replacement of seven aircraft. LIAT currently has about 18 Dash-8 aircraft that reportedly have an average age of 24 years. The cost of this fleet renewal is said to be around US$50-million.
Regarding the changing of the rest of the aircraft in the fleet, according to a release issued over the weekend, following recommendations from the company’s board of directors and management, the three prime ministers decided to defer the decision on other aircraft types to allow certain matters to be explored. It is anticipated that these decisions will be made in the short term.
LIAT further stated that it anticipates that negotiations would commence immediately and proceed swiftly and soon thereafter a formal announcement will be made regarding the new aircraft selected.