Colombian domestic market grew 38% for the first six months of 2010

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Colombia's domestic market grew 38% in the first half driven by expansion of low-cost carrier Aires as well as growth at the country's legacy operators.

According to data from the Colombian CAA, a record 7.4 million passengers flew domestically through the first six months of the year. This represents a 38% increase over the first half of 2009, when there were only 5.3 million domestic passengers.

Of the 2.1 million additional passengers Aires accounted for 900,000. Aires, which has been rapidly expanding since adding Boeing 737s and introducing low-cost operation in early 2009, reported 151% growth from 600,000 passengers in the first half of last year to 1.5 million the first half of this year.

Market leader Avianca grew its domestic traffic by 36% from 2.1 million to 2.8 million passengers. Its SAM unit, which operates Avianca's Fokker 100 fleet, also reported 17% growth from 1.1 million to 1.3 million passengers.

Copa subsidiary Aero Republica, which was the second largest player in Colombia before Aires' dramatic expansion, recorded 22% growth in the first half from 900,000 to 1.1 million passengers.

Colombian air force-owned Satena was the only Colombian carrier which saw its traffic drop in the first half. Satena, which codeshares with Avianca and operates on a mix of trunk and subsidised rural Amazonian routes, flew 456,000 passengers in the first half of the year compared 463,000 passengers during the same period of 2009.

Regional carrier EasyFly reported 13% traffic growth to 154,000 passengers. Colombia's smallest carrier, small turboprop operator Antioquia, recorded 1% growth to 91,000 passengers.

In Colombia's international market there was more modest growth of 8% to 3.1 million passengers.

Avianca's international traffic grew 5% to 1.3 million passengers. Aero Republica reported a 2% drop in its international traffic to 222,000 passengers but its sister Panamanian carrier Copa recorded 10% growth on Colombian routes to 198,000 passengers.

Aires, which over the last year has launched several routes to the USA, recorded 198% international traffic growth to 112,000 passengers.

American Airlines is the largest foreign carrier in Colombia, flying 211,000 passengers in the first half on flights to and from the country, a 2% drop compared to the same period last year.

Bogota-Medellin and Bogota-Cali are Colombia's two largest routes, each seeing 1.1 million passengers in the first half of the year. For Bogota-Medellin traffic was up 57% compared to last year while for Bogota-Cali it was up 41%.

Aires, which currently operates a fleet of nine Boeing 737-700s on trunk routes after its tenth 737 was destroyed in a crash earlier this week, is now the second largest carrier after Avianca in Colombia's seven largest domestic routes. Bogota-San Andres, the route the Aires 737-700 that crashed was operating, is now the ninth largest in Colombia with 212,000 passengers carried during the first half.

While Colombia has so far this year reported some of the largest domestic growth figures in the world, the country's domestic market could grow even more next year as two new high profile carriers are now preparing to launch services. This includes AerOasis, which is being backed by Chile's LAN, and a new yet to be named low-cost carrier that is being headed by former Avianca president Juan Emilio Posada.