When will LIAT 2020 take to the skies?

The content originally appeared on: Antigua News Room
LIAT 2020 photo by Wayne Mariette via Facebook

TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO NEWS DAY- On June 8, during his weekly radio talk show Browne and Browne, Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne announced that LIAT 2020 had been granted its air operator certificate (AOC) by the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority (ECCAA).

In 2003, the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) enacted legislation vesting ECCAA with the responsibility for regulating all civil aviation activities in the OECS.

This includes licensing airmen and certifying air operators, aerodromes and maintenance organisations.

While PM Browne expressed his pleasure at the AOC grant, he voiced frustration over the delay in the sales agreement approval by Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), which had been under review for over two weeks.

In July 2013, the Barbados-based CDB announced it was providing loans totalling US$65 million to four shareholder governments of the regional airline LIAT (1974) Ltd – Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Dominica – to assist with buying aircraft, in keeping with its fleet-modernisation project.

According to the loan agreements, the loans would be “on-lend” and repaid by LIAT over a 13-year period, following a grace period of two years. Co-financing for the project was provided by shareholder equity contributions and from the sale of LIAT’s existing aircraft.

The loans were approved by the bank’s board of directors during a meeting at its headquarters in Barbados on July 18, 2013. The fleet-modernisation project involves replacing LIAT’s ageing fleet through a combination of lease and purchase of aircraft, financing the transition costs associated with the changeover, upgrading maintenance facilities and other institutional-strengthening activities.

In June 2020, it was announced that LIAT would soon be liquidated, following increased debt and the economic impact of the covid19 pandemic. A new airline, LIAT 2020, would be formed to continue to provide connections between the Caribbean islands.

In July 2020, LIAT 1074 was placed under court-ordered administration and finally ceased operations on January 24.

On February 12, the Antigua and Barbuda government announced it had reached an agreement with the CDB on the price of the three ATR 42-600 aircraft, which were previously operated by LIAT (1974) Ltd.

Emphasising his concerns, Browne said, “I’ve been messaging the acting president and up to this day, I don’t understand why a sales agreement has to take so long.”

In discharging its responsibilities, ECCAA published an advisory circular – ECCAA OAC-001-Air Operator Certification – which describes the five phases of the grant of an AOC.

During Phase 1: Pre-Application, LIAT 2020 has to provide ECCAA with a list of aircraft by make, model and series that it intends to operate.

LIAT 2020 must also provide documentary evidence that it is in the process of actively procuring aircraft, facilities and services appropriate to the type of operation proposed.

If formal contracts are not completed, letters or other documents showing preliminary agreements or intent will suffice until such date as determined by the ECCAA.

Other information required includes ground-handling arrangements at stations, airport runway analysis and obstruction data.

LIAT 2020 must also provide evidence to ECCAA that the ATR 42-600 will be maintained by either an in-house maintenance organisation approved in accordance with advisory circular ECCAA Document AAC-001:Certification of an Approved Maintenance Organisation (AMO) or an approved external AMO.

The AMO must demonstrate that it has, among other things, the requisite facilities, tools, trained and qualified personnel, spares, manuals and job aids specific to the airframe, engines and components of the ATR 42-600 or any other aircraft to be added to the AOC.

In addition, the AMO must have a safety-management system and a quality-management system acceptable to ECCAA.

The grant of an AOC requires all aircraft to have valid certificates of registration (C of R) andcertificates of airworthiness (C of A). The C of Rs will have to be reissued with the legal name of the owner of the aircraft, which is contingent on the finalisation of the sales agreement with the CDB.

Likewise, before ECCA issues any C of A for an aircraft, LIAT 2020 must demonstrate that the aircraft is completely airworthy and fully complies with all mandatory inspections and modifications.

Phase 4 of the AOC process includes full-scale simulations of revenue operations to demonstrate LIAT 2020’s ability to operate independently, safely and in compliance with all applicable Civil Aviation Regulations (CARs).

The Antigua and Barbuda Civil Aviation (Security) Regulations 2021 require ECCAA to approve LIAT 2020’s aircraft-operator security programme, in respect of its operations, before such operations commence.

On successful completion of all five phases, ECCA will issue LIAT 2020 with an AOC and specific operating provisions (SOP). The SOP lists each airport at which LIAT 2020 is authorised to operate, in accordance with the CARs.

Notwithstanding Browne’s announcement, ECCA is silent on the grant of an AOC to LIAT 2020.

In May 2020, the FAA announced the OECS had been assigned a Category 2 rating because it did not comply with ICAO safety standards under the FAA’s International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) programme.

Since then, ECCAA has worked assiduously to correct all deficiencies identified in the FAA IASA 2020 report.

According to ECCAA’s website, the office of the director general is keen to invite the FAA for another IASA, confident of progress made in airworthiness, flight operations, personnel licensing, legislation and regulations for a Category 1 rating.

ECCAA has increased the effective implementation of the ICAO standards in aircraft accident and incident investigations, aerodromes, ground aids and air navigation services.

ECCAA recognises its sacrosanct responsibility to ensure that LIAT 2020 conducts air transportation operations with the highest degree of safety possible.

It is fully aware that any FAA IASA will intensely scrutinise the grant of an AOC to LIAT 2020.

Similarly, in accordance with the Caricom Multilateral Air Services Agreement, LIAT’s 2020 AOC and ownership structure will be scrutinised by the air transport licensing authorities of Caricom countries.

This perhaps explains ECCAA’s silence.

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