Liat continues to push for partnership with Caribbean

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Antigua-based Liat continues to push for more cooperation with Caribbean Airlines following the Trinidadian carrier's takeover of Air Jamaica.

Liat and Caribbean held meetings early this year to explore deepening their relationship. But Caribbean in recent months has been focusing on its takeover of Air Jamaica and has not yet responded to Liat's proposal to boost cooperation.

Liat acting chief executive Brian Challenger says a recent change in government in Trinidad and Tobago also has slowed down the process. He says Liat and its stakeholders have not yet been able to meet with the new government, which took office late last month.

"We're hoping to meet with them in the near future to explain our vision of partnership and cooperation," Challenger tells ATI. "We're very keen to cooperate with Caribbean Airlines."

Challenger says Liat's vision includes cooperation on several different levels, including route rationalisation, codesharing, frequent flier alignment, joint training and joint procurement. He points out the two carriers already cooperate, sharing spare parts for Bombardier Dash 8 aircraft at Trinidad and exchanging information on security.

"There's a lot more opportunity there. For schedule integration in particular we'd really like to feed them and they can feed us," Challenger says.

Liat and Caribbean's predecessor, BWIA, discussed a possible merger several years ago. Both carriers have long been proponents of further consolidation in the region's airline industry but Challenger says for now Liat is "not necessarily proposing a full merger" with Caribbean.

"Who knows, maybe there will be joint ownership but that's not a possibility at this time," Challenger says.

In the meantime he says Liat is closely monitoring how Caribbean integrates Air Jamaica. Caribbean formally took over Air Jamaica at the end of April but Challenger says so far "we haven't seen any real attempt to ingrate the two carriers and meld the schedules".

Liat is potentially interested in launching services to Jamaica. But Liat will only move into the market if there is a void. Challenger says Liat has adopted a policy not to step on Caribbean's toes. He points out the two carriers only currently overlap on three routes - Trinidad to Barbados, Grenada and Guyana.

Liat itself merged in 2007 with Caribbean Star Airlines. With Caribbean taking over Air Jamaica, a Caribbean-Liat combination could finally result in one carrier for the region which is strong enough to survive over the long-term without government aid.

But Challenger points out there are still other local carriers operating in the region, especially from the Dutch and French parts of the Caribbean. "There are other players we need to keep an eye on," he says.