Chaos at LIAT as pilots and management square off

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ST JOHN’S, Antigua – As LIAT and the pilots union head back to the bargaining table this morning, the airline’s chairman, Jean Holder, is hopeful a resolution could be reached that would allow its planes to take to the sky again today.

“I am fairly positive we can reach a situation where we can operate, hopefully (today). That is our hope and expectation,” Holder said. “I cannot say definitely, I don’t want to second-guess the pilots.”

LIAT employees this morning are once again facing thousands of riled passengers left stranded by the airline, this time as a result of a bitter standoff between the pilots union and management.

Holder said he is not involved in talks being held between Acting CEO Julie Reifer-Jones and the union.

“It’s two people talking – (representing) the management and the union. They are in conversation and I feel quite confident that we are making progress,” Holder said. “I am not going to say anything about the resumption of work until there is a clear, clear statement by the pilots themselves.”

Most flights were grounded on Tuesday, when the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association (LIALPA) called pilots, including those based out of Barbados, to attend an emergency meeting in Antigua.

The meeting came after LIALPA President Carl Burke and one other pilot were suspended indefinitely.

Sources said Burke’s suspension was as a result him seeking to defend a pilot who was suspended first.

Chairman of the umbrella group of regional LIAT unions, Chester Humphreys, said the management overstepped its authority in taking such harsh action against the two pilots on a “procedural matter”.

Up to press time, cancellations were announced for LIAT flights: 310, 312, 315, 317, 361, 726, 727 and 760.

The flight cancellations stretched across: Antigua, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Nevis, St Vincent, Tortola, Trinidad, St Croix, St Kitts, St Maarten and St Vincent.

Yesterday, flights facing delays and/or expected cancellations were: 364, 500, 501, 503, 504, 521 and 563.

At the VC Bird International Airport, scores of frustrated passengers milled around awaiting word.

In Barbados, angry and frustrated passengers said they were fed up with the airline and urged the shareholder governments to act quickly to fix the problems.

Affected passengers have been given a one-week grace period to rebook their affected flights without facing additional charges. Customers unable to fly can choose to get full credits to use later.

LIAT said passengers that take a risk and chose to fly but don’t reach their final destination because of the disruptions would not be given meals, transportation or hotel accommodation by the airline.

Many frustrated customers took to LIAT’s Facebook page to express their anger.

President of the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association Carl Burke has so far refused to comment on the situation.

Last week, he told OBSERVER media the airline was facing the prospect of a winter meltdown – such as was seen in the summer.

(More in today’s Daily OBSERVER)

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