Colombia: The battle to be number two

Bogota
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Colombian carriers Aires and Aero Republica are battling to secure traffic rights which will rank them as number two on key international routesafter Avianca.Aero Republica president Roberto Junguito says his carrier is asking Colombian authorities for rights to serve the USA, Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico and Peru. It is also seeking additional rights for Venezuela, the only international market it now serves along with Panama.

"We just want to be sure we have options to grow," says Junguito, adding Aero Republica wanted to get its requests in early as it is prepares to start the second phase of the business plan it initiated in 2006 after being acquired by Copa of Panama. Under the plan Aero Republica has already improved its domestic product and launched new routes to Panama, where its passengers can connect onto Copa flights throughout the Americas.

Rival Aires, currentlya domestic operator with the exception of a few turboprop flights to Panama, Aruba and Curaçao, is also ready to start operating several of the same international routes. Aires has already secured traffic rights to launch services to Fort Lauderdale and New York in the USA from Bogotá and plans to begin both of these routes in November. Aires president Francisco Mendez says the carrier also has several other new route applications pending with Colombian authorities, including for Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador, Jamaica and Mexico. Aires also has applied for more US routes including linking Fort Lauderdale with Barranquilla, Cali, Cartagena and Pereira.

ROUTE RIGHT RIVALRY

Mendez says Aero Republica and Aires for the most part have applied for the same routes and Colombian authorities will have to decide which carrier should receive second designation alongside the main international carrier, Avianca. "In our case we will fly all of them," Mendez says, claiming that Aires, unlike Aero Republica, has the aircraft coming in to launch all of these routes.

Junguito says while Aero Republica is not committed to expanding its fleet beyond 15 Embraer 190s, it has the flexibility to add aircraft if there are opportunities. For example, Aero Republica could possibly take on some of the Copa Embraer 190s next year as that airline expands its 737 fleet. He says that adding 737-700s at Aero Republica also "is a possibility for the future".

Junguito believes the 737is too big for domestic routes but says "the 737 could be a good option if we take on Miami". However, he emphasises that when Aero Republica launches Miami or any other new international route will depend on market conditions.

While some of the international routes requested by Aires and Aero Republica cannot be launched until Colombia negotiates new bilaterals, Mendez says several of the routes Aires is proposing can be awarded immediately including Bogotá-São Paulo, Bogotá-Havana, Bogotá-Montego Bay and Medellin-Mexico City. He says there is also room in the US-Colombia bilateral, which was expanded 2007, for more services on the Colombian end. Avianca is the only Colombian carrier serving the USA, although five US carriers now serve Colombia.

Avianca in the first half of 2009 carried 1.4 million international passengers, giving it 47% of the Colombian international market. Aero Republica was the second largest carrier in the market with 227,000 passengers and Copa was fourth, behind American Airlines, with 180,000 passengers. Combined, Aero Republica and Copa had 14% of the market.

In the first half of 2009, Bogotá-Panama City was Colombia's second largest international route after Bogotá-Miami with 486,000 passengers carried. Bogotá-Caracas was the third largest route, just surpassing Bogotá-Madrid and Bogotá-Lima.