Up and down Latin America, economies have been strong and air travel has grown - and with it the region's airports. The Latin region as a whole saw an increase in passenger traffic, with August domestic regional passengers rising by 4%, while international traffic was up more than 9%, year-over-year. Its domestic traffic growth was a global exception in a down market, says the Airports Council International. Although the North American credit crunch has sent shivers southward, and bourses are bracing for an aftershock, the region has remained a thriving one.

In several major airports, private money, global expertise and local talent have combined to make strong players. In Santiago, Chile, the nation's main carrier, LAN, is highly stable and profitable, while the home economy is one of the strongest in the region. Alfonso Lacamara, chief executive of Santiago International Airport, is fairly well content with the way things are. "When we built out the new terminal, we had a design goal of about 9 or 9.5 million annual passengers, and we will reach that, but not yet," he says. From August 2007 to August 2008, the airport's two terminal combined chalked up 9 million passengers, up from 7 million in 2006 and 8.4 million in 2007. Lacamara hopes the Ministry of Public Works will fund a new terminal for domestic operations, allowing the international carriers to make full use of the ­airport's larger terminal.

Santiago Airport, Chile 

Chile's civil aviation administration, the DGAC, owns the two 12,000ft (3,658m) runways, the control tower and airspace, but the SCL Consortium has the rest. Members of the consortium include the local AGUNSA transportation group, which has a 47% stake, and three Spanish firms.

"Starting with the Asian crisis we have had some bad times, and after 9/11, we were down for three years. But after that, both air cargo and passenger numbers began to rise [again]. As for growth, we shall have to see what Public Works wants to do," Lacamara says. He adds that a major accomplishment of the SCL group was the construction of a cargo terminal, through which about 98-99% of all Chilean air cargo moves.

Further north, in Peru, Lima's Jorge Chavez International Airport is also in private control, with Germany's Fraport owning 70% and local investors the rest. Jaime Daly, chief executive of Lima Airport Partners, says: "We are in a unique position - we're the only airport in the world where two foreign carriers have made a central base of operation. Both TACA and LAN Peru have made us their major airport."

Peru has been without a flag carrier for several years, but that has not kept Lima's airport from growing. In 2002, it handled 4.3 million passengers, but by 2006 that total had grown to 6 million, while in 2007 it reached 7.5 million. The airport should be able to handle 10 million annual passengers, a volume it likely won't reach until 2014, Daly says.

Now, Daly explains: "We're in Stage Two of a major expansion programme, one that will increase the space of our international terminal and add 12 jet bridges in all. The main benefit will be to improve the traffic flow for international passengers and add 10 new lanes for immigration." The Peruvian government has promised to add immigration inspectors.


Lima Airport has an incentive programme that offers free landing to carriers beginning new nonstop services and that lowers the fee for carriers that increase the size of their aircraft on a route. Daly says service to Asia is a long-term goal but because there are no aircraft now in service that can make the flight nonstop, it will seek a point for transfers in Canada or Europe but preferably not in the US, which requires visas for transfer passengers.

In Colombia, traffic remains brisk as the nation's two major domestic airlines are in the midst of fleet renewals and a new treaty with the US promises added services. Avianca, the national flag carrier, has just received its first Airbus A330 for use on intercontinental routes, while AeroRepublica, the Colombian unit of Panama's Copa, now has 14 Embraer E-190s for its domestic and regional routes.

Alfonso Lacamara, CEO Santiago Airport
"Three years after 9/11 both cargo and passenger numbers began to rise [again]"
Alfonso Lacamara
CEO, Santiago Airport

JetBlue begins service to Bogotá from Orlando in January, while Spirit Airlines, the South Florida-based carrier, has served Bogotá from Fort Lauderdale since the summer. The two are the first ever low-fares players in the US-Colombia market, which has grown by 200,000 annual flyers since 2002 to 750,000 passengers as of year-end 2007.

The US services support the large communities of expatriates living the US as well as growing business ties between the two nations, but Michael Nicholaas, who is operations chief of the consortium that runs Bogotá's El Dorado airport, says: "These are important developments, and we are hoping that Avianca with its new fleet will fulfil one of our greatest needs: more European service. For instance, even with three nonstop flights on the route to Madrid, load factors are about 83% - which means there's demand for more capacity. The Paris flight on Air France has loads of about 85%."

The airport's concessionaire, OPAIN, a Colombian-Swiss venture which took over management of El Dorado Airport in 2006, faces a major milestone next year: deciding on and starting a new terminal. Nicholaas says that one of the group's major goals is persuading the Colombian government to alter the original plan to build two terminals - one domestic and one international - and instead allow for one major terminal building. "With the growth of Bogotá as a connecting hub, and with so many passengers connecting between domestic and international flights, we need a single terminal to keep the benefits of a hub. It would also save the airlines money by not making them have to have duplicate facilities such as check-in counters." The airport terminal will likely be completed by 2012. The airport is on track for more than 13 million passengers this year.  

To read about how Central America has been cashing in on tourism growth, go to: flightglobal.com/tourismgrowth 

Source: Airline Business