Analysis 2021: A golden year for Colombian aviation?

After seven months of aviation paralysis following the pandemic in 2020, Colombia consolidated its new take-off in 2021 to reactivate its skies and strengthened its international connectivity thanks to the arrival of new operators and the opening of ‘a large number of routes.

To be precise, 12 airlines have announced the entry into service of 31 new international air routes which have allowed the arrival of approximately 1,832,000 visitors, according to estimates from the Ministry of Commerce.

Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, New York, Orlando, Newark in the United States, Cancun and Mexico in Mexico; Lima in Peru, Montreal in Canada and Santiago de Chile received new connections from Colombia, while connections with Mexico City, Santiago, Miami, Cancun, New York, Panama City and Toronto were inaugurated in the country.

Thanks to this “Boom” of new routes, new international links are available to more Colombian cities, allowing the arrival of more travelers and the reactivation of sectors such as tourism. Barranquilla, Pereira, Bucaramanga and Armenia have attracted the interest of more airlines and added new connections, while San Andrés and Cúcuta have for the first time new international connections with Miami and Panama City, respectively, via the American Airlines and Copa flights.

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Ricardo Galindo Bueno, Deputy Minister of Tourism, underlined that the arrival of new airlines and routes in the country “allows us to consolidate a very good work of the government, so far the most important year for tourism. Colombian”.

The national government’s commitment to strengthen the country’s air connectivity has a strategic objective: to stimulate tourism as an engine of economic recovery.

As a result of this strategy, one of the most important key movements in air connectivity has been implemented: the reduction of VAT on airline tickets from 19% to 5%, a major achievement thanks to the approval by Congress of the Law on Tourism.

The country has thus become a leader in the reactivation of aviation in the region. According to the director of Aerocivil, Jair Orlando Fajardo, “In the first nine months of 2021, 16 million passengers passed through El Dorado, which represents 80% of air travelers, including domestic and international passengers, who totaled 20 million. In addition, 625,000 tonnes of air cargo was handled in the country, mainly through Bogota airport ”.

The country has thus become a leader in the reactivation of aviation in the region. According to Aerocivil director Jair Orlando Fajardo, “In the first nine months of 2021, 16 million passengers passed through El Dorado, which represents 80% of air passengers, including domestic and international traffic, which amounts to 20 million. In addition, 625,000 tonnes of air cargo was handled in the country, mainly through Bogota airport ”.

This strategy was also accompanied by an investment by the national government to improve the country’s airport infrastructure and thus allow new roads to reach new towns.

With this order, Leticia has improved its capacity to accommodate the A320 and B737; Pasto received investments of 177,000 million dollars, and in Armenia, a new control tower was built, the runway and aprons were extended, and finally, a modern terminal was built to open the door to international flights, works in which 116,000 million dollars have been invested.

Likewise, in 2021, Colombia experienced another unprecedented phenomenon: the rise of the Low-Cost model.

During the year, Viva Air “spared no expense” with an ambitious expansion plan that includes the authorization to operate more than 30 international routes; 16 to the United States, four to Mexico, three to the Dominican Republic as well as to Peru, two each to El Salvador and Panama, and one route each to Brazil, Guatemala and Aruba. A strategy that would position it as the largest low-cost carrier in the region.

Likewise, the Mexicans Viva Aerobus and Volaris, with Spirit, SkyAirlines, JetSmart and the future Ultra Air, have made Colombia a land of the low-cost model, an air revolution that has democratized access to air transport and given to more Colombians have the opportunity to travel by plane.

However, the country’s aviation development still has a pending task, which is located at El Dorado Airport in Bogota, a terminal that suffers from severe congestion and has drawn criticism from airline operators.

Much like Avianca CEO Adrian Neuhauser did in early December when he sharply criticized the airport’s operational problems, which affect the airline’s up to 80 flights a day.

According to the executive, the combination of the operation with private and military flights, limited space for planes and delays in migration processes, are causing delays that can affect more than 12,000 Avianca customers per day. He also called for resolving these “operational inefficiencies” which affected more than 4,000 flights and around 500,000 travelers last year.

Fajardo is optimistic and says Aerocivil is working on alternatives to make El Dorado easier to operate, including the possibility that some non-scheduled flights could be operated from Guaymaral airport to help ease congestion at the country’s main airport.

Still, for now, there doesn’t appear to be any light at the end of the tunnel and the pressure continues to wreak havoc on the terminal. IATA even stepped in and sent the following recommendations to Colombian authorities to resolve operational issues:

  • Do not apply the Ground Delay Program (GDP) to airlines, so that the strategic planning previously approved for airlines is respected.
  • Prioritize regular passenger aviation primarily during peak hours at El Dorado Airport.
  • Do not approve non-scheduled flights during peak hours.
  • Restrict general aviation flights only to those within the approved off-peak allocation and not exceeding the allocated quota.
  • Ensure that ATC centers and control towers have sufficient personnel for smooth and rapid operations.

To conclude, Colombia’s positive progress has projected it as a leader in the region in terms of aviation, the arrival of new operators and the opening of new routes have transformed the country’s connectivity into economic reactivation.

The heavy congestion at the terminal has caused more and more airlines to prefer to operate from other hubs such as Medellin and Cali, which is not a bad thing as it increases the potential of these cities, even if it does. causes Bogota to lose its relevance in the airline market, and being the largest city in the country is a matter of concern as in the worst case it can generate over-demand which cannot be effectively met.

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