ALTA: Cancun approaches anniversary with record traffic

Washington DC
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Traffic at Cancun International airport grew at record levels in the third quarter, as the airport nears the 15th anniversary of private management by Aeroportuario del Sureste (ASUR).

The airport recorded 4 million passengers in the third quarter, up 12% compared with 2012. International traffic, which accounts for more than 60% of passengers at Cancun, was up 12.6% and domestic traffic was up 11.2% during the period.

This growth is due to the strength of the destination, not the airport’s management, according to ASUR chief executive Adolfo Castro.

“Cancun is a destination airport,” he says. “The people who go there want to see the sun and the beaches or something apart from the airport. What we do is provide the [airport] infrastructure and services to the people who go there.”

Elaborating on his comments, Castro says that ASUR works closely with airlines, hotels, and local tourism and convention authorities to attract people to the Cancun area, which in turn drives passenger traffic.

Annual traffic has increased by about 11% annually for the past few years, he says.

Airlines continue expanding at Cancun. Avianca began service from Bogota this year while VivaColumbia plans to begin flights from Medellin in 2014, while both existing domestic and international carriers continue to expand their operations.

Capacity on routes to the UK has grown dramatically during the past year. Available seat kilometres (ASKs) rose more than doubled to 106.9 million in November compared with a year earlier, Innovata FlightMaps Analytics data shows. Thomas Cook added service from Manchester, while both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic Airways increased frequency on their fights from London during the month.

Capacity to Cancun’s largest market, the USA, rose only 5.9% in November, according to Innovata. Despite the slower growth, the country maintains a nearly 30% share of the Mexican airport’s capacity.

By comparison, domestic capacity accounts for about 18.5% of the market, and capacity to the UK only 6.8%.

Cancun airport’s infrastructure is expanding in line with its traffic growth. Terminal 1 reopened following significant renovations at the beginning of November. The terminal added seven contact gates to the facility, bringing the total to 30 with 46 aircraft parking positions.

The airport is designed to handle 17 million passengers annually across terminals 1, 2 and 3.

An expansion of terminal 3, which opened in 2007, and construction of a fourth terminal is next in ASUR’s investment programme for Cancun. Castro declines to provide a timeline for these projects, citing ongoing negotiations with the Mexican government regarding its 2014 to 2018 investment programme, but says they expect the projects to be included.

The Cancun airport concession could be a model for others in Latin America. Airlines and the Puerto Rico Port Authority, which granted the San Juan airport concession in 2012, emphasised the airport’s traffic growth, improved terminal facilities and low airline costs under ASUR’s management during the push for final approval of the San Juan deal from the US government earlier this year.

ASUR along with Highstar Capital own the 40-year San Juan airport concession, which closed in February.

Asked what lessons ASUR would give other airports in Latin America, Castro says concessions cannot work as efficiently as possible if governments stay involved in the operations, citing the Brazil airport deals.

“In my opinion it’s not working yet in the right way,” he says on Brazil. “What they really need to do is take their hands off and let the private entities work with all of the stakeholders.”

Brazil’s government-owned airport operator Infraero has a 49% equity stake in the Campinas-Viracopos International, Brasilia International and Sao Paulo Guarulhos International airport concessions, and will have similar holdings in the Belo Horizonte Confins International and Rio de Janeiro Galeao International airport deals when they are awarded later in November.

ASUR will celebrate the 15th anniversary of its management of Cancun later this month, with Air France operating the first Airbus A380 flight to Latin America to the airport on 27 November.