American Airlines and Avianca are driving a major Colombia-US market capacity boost just as a new Colombian airline plans to join the competition.

American, the dominant US carrier in the market with 30 flights a week, is boosting Colombia services in De­cember by almost 50%. It plans to launch a daily Boeing 737-800 flight from Miami to Barranquilla and expand services from Miami to Bogotá and Medellin.

Adding these flights allows American to fend off a vigorous effort by Delta Air Lines and Spirit Airlines, which asked the US Department of Transportation to re-allocate American's 14 unused frequencies on the grounds that American sat on them for two years.

American announced its plans for these routes only after the Delta and Spirit requests, prompting them to accuse American of a "feigned" interest in the routes "pulled out of a hat to retain its monopoly". The US DoT nonetheless ruled in American's favour, declaring "it has generally been our policy to permit incumbent carriers to retain dormant frequencies if the carrier demonstrates firm plans to use them".

American may have avoided more US competition, but Avianca is gaining a new rival on the Colombian side. As part of a multiple route proceeding by Colombia's AeroCivil, local carrier Aires has been awarded daily flights from Bogotá to Fort Lauderdale.

Aires operates 13 Bombardier Dash 8 turboprops on domestic and regional routes to Aruba, Panama, Curacao, and Venezuela, and plans to lease narrowbody jets for its new US route by December. As part of the same route proceeding, Avianca gained more US rights - one daily frequency each to New York and Los Angeles, and two new daily frequencies to Miami. Avianca is already by far the largest carrier in the US-Colombia market with about 10 flights a day. AeroCivil granted none of AeroRepublica's US requests.

Avianca has also agreed to codeshare with Satena, a military-operated airline that serves smaller Colombian cities. Satena's routes will feed traffic to Avianca's overseas flights and vice versa.

Meanwhile, Colombia has invited the USA to discuss further liberalising their bilateral to add another 19 frequencies to each side and AeroCivil has declared Baranquilla an Open Skies city.

Source: Airline Business