Liat eyes new markets in Haiti and the Dominican Republic

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Antigua's Liat is examining potential new route pairings in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

The carrier currently serves Santo Domingo from St. Johns, Antigua four times per week, but Liat director of schedules and special projects Lesroy Browne says there could be an opportunity to introduce flights in Puerto Rico- Dominican Republic market, which is currently served by American mainline, American Eagle subsidiary Executive Airlines and JetBlue Airways. All those carriers operate the Santo Domingo market, but Browne also sees potential in offering flights from San Juan to Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic.

Liat currently doesn't have any flights to Haiti, and by offering flights to Port Au Prince, Browne believes it is "quite possible" to link to the Eastern Caribbean.

Liat operates largely to the Leeward and Windward Islands, but Browne explains "our existing markets are static", highlighting that unlike other regions the Caribbean's geography doesn't allow for passenger migration from bus transport to trains and finally to aircraft. "For us to grow revenues we have to look to other markets," he says.

Liat continues to evaluate options for the replacement of its 15 Dash 8-100/300 turboprop fleet, and Browne says now the carrier has "become a little more focused" in its evaluations.

Liat's Lease expirations on the Bombardier aircraft are staggered, beginning in 2011 and continuing through 2013. ATR, Bombardier and Embraer have all made presentations to the carrier. Browne says the 50-seat configuration of the Dash 8-300s is the best seating capacity for operating in the Caribbean, but that Liat could move to 70-seat aircraft to support some level of expansion.

Currently Liat is dealing with effects of the economic downturn most airlines battled in 2009 as the Caribbean lags behind other regions of the world in experiencing highs and lows of business cycles.

Previously, acting Liat chief executive Brian Challenger said the carrier ended 2009 with a small operating and net profit. But Browne says since then traffic volumes and revenues have declined, and "2010 will not be as good as 2009".