November 12 2018  |  Airlines & Airports

Avianca CEO says Latin American airports are stretched too thin

By Ronnie Lovler

Air traffic to Latin America is expected to double in the next ten years according to information shared at a recent meeting of Latin American and Caribbean airline executives. But the question remains whether international airports in the region are equipped to handle the growth.

The annual meeting for the Latin American and Caribbean Air Transport Association (ALTA) that just concluded in Panama City, Panama, brought together representatives of more than 100 airlines and shippers.

Avianca, the flagship airline of a group of eight Latin American airlines, has been expanding the routes it offers in recent years, and is concerned by what the airline’s CEO sees as the inability of each country to provide the needed infrastructure for air travel.

“My number one headache, by far is the state of airports in Latin America,” said Hernan Rincon. “Every single airport is at maximum capacity.” That was the take from Air Transport World in their coverage of the three-day meeting.

Panama, which is finishing up construction of a second terminal which will greatly expand that airport’s capacity, did come in for its share of praise because of that project. Panama is a major connecting point for airlines serving the Americas and the need for more capacity to handle passenger traffic there has long been evident.

But there was much less praise for other facilities. “I believe we are headed for an infrastructure crisis, and that includes Latin America,” IATA CEO Alexandre de Juniac said in a speech. “This capacity challenge at the key hub locations such as Buenos Aires, Bogota, Lima, Mexico City, Havana and Santiago are very well documented.

“Unless they are addressed properly, the region’s economies will suffer. If planes cannot land, the economic benefits that they bring will fly elsewhere,” he said.

Of particular concern were developments in Mexico, where the government is scrapping plans already under way for construction of a new airport in Mexico City. President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador said he would not go forward with the project after voters rejected the idea in an informal poll in late October.

The US$13 billion Texcoco project, now more than 30% complete, had been intended to replaced Mexico City’s over-extended and aging international airport. Instead, López Obrador, who is to be sworn into office December 1, said his government would build two new runways at the Santa Lucía airbase north of Mexico City.

But the IATA chief said shutting down expansion at the Mexico City airport is the wrong move.

“It will be a big setback to the airline industry and to the Mexican economy,” de Juniac said.

In his remarks, the IATA CEO also criticized Peru and Jamaica. In the former, he said delays have been ongoing for construction of a new terminal and runaway at Lima, “although we have recently had indications that construction may start shortly.

“In Jamaica, the government plans to invest US$60 million in funds raised from passenger charges for an unnecessary runway extension at Montego Bay. The money could be better spent on improving the passenger experience at the airport,” de Juniac said.

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