LIAT (1974) LTD, operating as Leeward Islands Air Transport or LIAT, is an airline headquartered on the grounds of V. C. Bird International Airport in Antigua. It operates high-frequency inter-island scheduled services serving 17 destinations in the Caribbean. The airline's main base is VC Bird International Airport, Antigua and Barbuda, with bases at Grantley Adams International Airport, Barbados and Piarco International Airport, Trinidad and Tobago.
Leeward Islands Air Transport Services was founded by Kittician the late (now Sir) Frank Delisle in Montserrat on 20 October 1956 and began flying with a single Piper Apache operating between Antigua and Montserrat. With the acquisition in 1957 of 75 percent of the airline by the larger, better known BWIA, LIAT was able to expand to other Caribbean destinations and to obtain new aircraft types, such as the Beechcraft Bonanza and de Havilland Heron. Hawker Siddeley HS 748s came in 1965, due to the airline's decision to phase out the Herons. In 1968, LIAT was operating some flights via an agreement with Eastern Air Lines to provide passenger feed at this U.S. based air carrier's hub located in San Juan, Puerto Rico and was flying "Eastern Partner" service between San Juan and Antigua, St. Kitts and St. Maarten.
LIAT was not always an all propeller aircraft airline. After Court Line obtained 75 percent of the airline in 1971, LIAT entered the jet age, using British Aircraft Corporation BAC One-Eleven twin jets for their longer Caribbean routes. Smaller Britten-Norman Islander STOL (short take off and landing) twin prop aircraft were used during this time as well. LIAT operated the stretched version of the British-manufactured BAC One-Eleven, being the series 500 model, which was comparable to McDonnell Douglas DC-9-30 being flown during the late 1960s and early 1970s by a competing airline, Puerto Rico-based Caribair (Puerto Rico). The BAC One-Eleven jets were supplied to LIAT by U.K. based Court Line.
Court Line went bankrupt in August 1974, and the BAC One-Elevens were removed from the LIAT fleet. In order to keep the airline flying, the governments of 11 Caribbean nations stepped in and acquired the airline. The jets were replaced with a series of smaller types, such as the de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter STOL (short take off and landing) turboprop.
The 1980s were a decade of growth for the airline. By 1986, many daily flights were operated to Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico, as well as other regions that the airline had never flown to. Faster de Havilland Canada DHC-8-100 Dash 8 turboprops were acquired in order to reduce flight times systemwide.
In June 2013, LIAT received its first ATR 72 series 600 aircraft (registration V2-LIA).
Merger with Caribbean Star
In January 2007 the airline announced an intended merger with Caribbean Star Airlines, and they entered into a commercial alliance, involving the flying of a combined schedule. All flights were marketed as LIAT, although the airlines continued to operate separately using their own air operators certificates, until after completion of the merger. The merged airline was planning to use the LIAT brand with a merged fleet which is standardised on the Bombardier Dash 8 Q300. However, in June 2007, the shareholder governments of Barbados, Antigua and St. Vincent gave the go ahead to the Board of Directors to buy out Caribbean Star instead. LIAT purchased Caribbean Star Airlines on the 24 October 2007 and five of Caribbean Star's DHC-8 aircraft were then transferred to LIAT. As another result of the merger, LIAT changed its slogan to "LIAT, Star of the Caribbean", which was used as the slogan for a short time, and was then changed back to "THE Caribbean Airline".
Future merger prospects
The airline is owned by seven Caribbean governments, with three being the major shareholders (73.4%); private shareholders (10%); and employees (5.3%). It has 673 employees (at March 2007). The government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, which also is the sole shareholder of another regional carrier, Caribbean Airlines, the national airline of Trinidad and Tobago, was also offered the option to be another shareholder in LIAT, but the government of Prime Minister Patrick Manning rejected the offer.
The airline is headquartered on the grounds of V. C. Bird International Airport in Saint George Parish, Antigua. The call centre and customer relations departments are also located at V. C. Bird. The commercial department is located in Suite 101 of Lauriston in St. Michael, Barbados.
For the past two years LIAT and the Leeward Islands Airline Pilots Association (LIALPA) and the Leeward Islands Flight Attendants Association (LIFAA), the groups representing the airline’s pilots and cabin crew, have been engaged in talks about establishing a base in Trinidad.
The need for the new base arises from LIAT having to overnight a minimum of 18 crew members every night in hotels in Port-of-Spain at an annual cost of over US$1 million. The opening of a base in Trinidad is a part of the company’s attempts to respond to the dynamics of regional inter-island traffic, including Trinidad’s significance as a business and commercial centre for the southern Caribbean.
The management of LIAT, although not required by law or contract, has retained professional accounting and consulting services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) to undertake a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) study to assess any differentials in costs that might arise for pilots and flight attendants as a result of having to be based in Trinidad. The PWC study specifically included costs associated with the increased security risks associated with Trinidad. A similar study, without the security risk factors, was done when LIAT successfully re-established its Barbados base in May 2001.
LIAT’s management wishes to emphasize that it remains committed to the safety, security and general welfare of its staff. The company expects to continue its discussions with the unions representing the Flight Attendants and Pilots in order to establish a base in Trinidad.
On Wednesday, March 26, 2014 the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) reported that British aviation executive, David Evans, was selected by the board of directors to become LIAT's next chief executive. Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) late Wednesday. On April 22, 2014, Evans was appointed as CEO of LIAT.
Evans' appointment comes weeks after the shareholders mandated Chairman Jean Holder to study the future of the airline for 100 days, and shareholder Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves had boasted that more than 200 people had applied for the position.
Evans unfortunately resigned on April 13, 2016 amidst a heated meeting with the board of directors, leaving LIAT yet again without a CEO.
LIAT is currently under enormous financial pressure due to unsustainable losses and expenses. Despite their accounts not being in the public domain (LIAT is a publicly owned corporation) it has been learned that the airline lost in excess of US$100 million for at least each of the last four years, owes Barbados US$50 million, and just undertook a disastrous fleet renewal exercise claimed to cost US$100 million but which external experts estimate will cost approaching US$250 million when the renewal is complete. The losses in goodwill from the "meltdown" cannot be fully calculated.
In addition, LIAT is estimated to have to find some US$1.2 million a month in lease payments and has had to choose between those and paying employee salaries.
Until 2008, LIAT's services to Anguilla, Antigua, Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat and St. Vincent were codeshared with Carib Aviation, which also used Antigua & Barbuda as its hub. The agreement was canceled due to Carib Aviation's discontinuation of all flights effective September 30, 2008.
LIAT also provides cargo services, with its service called Quikpak. This service provides Airport-to-Airport & Door-to-Door, customs cleared delivery service throughout the Caribbean. The delivery time is typically within one or two days, guaranteed by the LIAT staff.
LIAT will also begin all cargo services with a Dash 8–100, which is currently being converted from a passenger aircraft to a full-fledged cargo aircraft. Once the new cargo service comes on stream, customers for the first time will be able to book cargo online on the company’s web site. Already, there has been considerable interest by regional manufacturers, agricultural exporters and other traders in the start-up of the service.
The introduction of its new cargo service is planned for later this year.
Early in 2013 the airline announced plans to acquire two entirely new types of turboprop aircraft, the 48-seat ATR-42 series 600 and 68-seat ATR-72 series 600  to replace its aging fleet of Dash 8's, both purchased directly by the airline, and acquired during their merger with Caribbean Star. The introduction of these new propjets will mark the first time that LIAT has operated ATR aircraft. LIAT began accepting deliveries in mid 2013. Later in 2013 then CEO, Capt. Ian Brunton, apologised for what he described as a 'meltdown' around a re-fleeting exercise, with LIAT changing aircraft from Dash-8 types to ATR-42 and ATR-72 types. The troubles, which stranded thousands of passengers across LIAT's 1,300 miles of network, started in early August and continued for some two months while LIAT struggled with crewing both types and deliveries of the new aircraft. To compound the problems, an engine of one of the new aircraft took a week to be replaced, and one of the new aircraft was chartered to the Prime Minister of Taiwan in the middle of the debacle. The CEO blamed the numerous flight delays and cancellations on "unscheduled maintenance, crew shortages, bad weather, airport limitations, obtaining licences for operating our new ATR aircraft, Tropical Storm Chantal, strong surface winds, unfavourable weather conditions, airport limitations, and runway lights". Capt. Brunton resigned in late September, with his departure on October 1, 2013.
LIAT provides service in the Eastern Caribbean region from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic in the north to Georgetown, Guyana in the south, linking the chain of islands in between.
In addition to the above airlines, LIAT currently has a partnership alliance with:
- Former agreements
As of April 2016, the average fleet age of LIAT is 6.0 years.
The LIAT retired fleet includes the following aircraft:
- Beechcraft Bonanza
- Bombardier Dash 8 100
- Bombardier Dash 8 300
- British Aircraft Corporation BAC One-Eleven - stretched series 500 aircraft (The BAC One-Eleven series 500 was the only jet aircraft type ever operated by LIAT.)
- Britten-Norman BN-2 Islander
- Britten-Norman BN-2A-III Trislander
- de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter
- de Havilland DH-114 Heron
- Embraer EMB-110 Bandeirante
- Hawker Siddeley HS 748
Incidents & Accidents
- On August 23, 1959, a LIAT de Havilland DH-114 Heron 2B crashed on landing in St. Kitts. The aircraft was en route between St. Johns, Antigua and St. Kitts. After landing, it overran the runway and was damaged beyond repair. No one was seriously injured and there were no fatalities.
- LIAT Flight 319: On August 4, 1986, a LIAT de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter crashed into the Caribbean Sea. The aircraft was en route between St. Lucia and St. Vincent when it crashed due to poor weather conditions, while on approach. After a full day's search failed to find a trace of the Twin Otter, all of the 11 passengers and two crew were presumed dead.
- On December 2, 2010, LIAT flight LI362, a Bombardier Dash 8-Q300 (DHC-8-300) carrying 24 passengers, en route to San Juan, Puerto Rico, made an emergency landing at the V.C. Bird International Airport in Antigua after losing a wheel from one of the main landing gear. As a precautionary measure, emergency services were placed on standby. The aircraft landed safely with no major damage or any injuries to the passengers or crew.
- On August 25, 2013, LIAT flight LI774, a Bombardier Dash 8-Q300 (DHC-8-300) carrying 43 passengers, en route from Guyana to Barbados made an emergency landing at the Grantley Adams International Airport in Barbados after losing a wheel from one of the main landing gear on takeoff from Guyana. The aircraft landed safely with no major damage or any injuries to the passengers or crew.
LIAT has a very poor reputation among both locals and visitors to and from the Caribbean Islands. Their flights often operate irregularly, with inconsistent arrival and departure. Baggage is often misdirected or not loaded entirely. (LIAT, Luggages In Another Town). They are known for having very poor customer service, late departures, flights cancellation and their staff is thought by some to be surly and unhelpful. These problems were exacerbated with the 2010 strikes and again during the labor disputes in 2013 – with many flights canceled and passengers stranded and unable to receive refunds. The management and head operators of the airline makes it clear that they are not responsible for any flight cancellations or stranded passengers.  
Some residents of the Caribbean joke that LIAT is an acronym standing for "Lost In Antigua's Terminal" and "Leave Island Any Time." or "Late, If Ah Tal"( translation": late if at all)