IATA is pleased that Colombia plans to expand the existing airport serving Bogota instead of constructing a second airport, underlining the need for Latin American governments to partner with industry to address infrastructure needs in a region that has a poor record of planning for passenger growth.
"We are quite pleased that the government has decided not to pursue El Dorado 2, and to proceed with infrastructure improvements in the current airport," says IATA regional vice-president for the Americas Peter Cerda at IATA Aviation Day Colombia in Bogota.
Colombia had previously proposed building a smaller, secondary airport - dubbed El Dorado 2 - but Cerda says the government has since been convinced it is more logical to consolidate operations at one airport.
The existing El Dorado airport which serves Bogota has a capacity of 40 million passengers, and handled more than 35 million passengers in 2017. Colombia foresees traffic growing to over 100 million passengers annually by 2030, says Juan Carlos Salazar, the director of Colombia's civil aviation authority Aerocivil.
The current airport has the capability to be expanded further to handle 70 million passengers. However, Colombian authorities would have to find a solution to accommodate El Dorado's substantial portion of military and general aviation flights, which might involve improving other airports within Colombia, says Cerda.
Avianca's chief executive Hernan Rincon says military aviation flights should be moved to a military air base. "To have a military airport co-existing with a commercial airport is not appropriate," he says. "We have to finish expanding this airport, and we can't open a new airport without finishing the current one."
The parent of Viva Air Colombia says building a second airport for Bogota will be a "waste of taxpayers' money".
"Politically, some people love a shiny new building but you also have the realists in the government, likely the people in finance, who will ask: 'Why are we doing this?'," says Declan Ryan, managing partner of Irelandia Aviation, which owns Viva Air Group.
"I hope the [President] Duque government makes decisions with their wallets, and if they do that, they won't be building another airport," Ryan tells FlightGlobal.
Colombia's decision to expand El Dorado instead of building a second airport is a win for airlines in a region where airport developments have often frustrated airline chiefs. More recently, Mexico's incoming government oversaw a public referendum to scrap the completion of a new airport for Mexico City.
Cerda warns that the aftermath of that decision, which has sent Mexico's financial markets into upheaval, serves as a cautionary tale for other Latin American governments.
"The financial markets have spoken," he says. "The currency devaluation, the stock markets falling and the overall economic impact to Mexico is a clear reflection of how the market has seen it."
Mexico's incoming administration has proposed a three-airport system to meet Mexico City's future traffic. Industry stakeholders including IATA, however, have said that splitting operations among three airports will not be practical for airline operations.
"It will result in immense inefficiencies for the airlines," says Cerda. "It will put Mexico in a very difficult position to compete as a global hub."