Ecuador's TAME plans to launch service to Panama in December and is at Routes looking to further expand its fledgling international network.

TAME CEO Gustavo Cuesta says the carrier is attending the World Route Development Forum for the first time in order to meet with airports and potential airline partners. TAME is Ecuador's largest domestic carrier, capturing 46% of the Ecuador's domestic market in 2009. But TAME only operates scheduled services to one international destination, Havana, which it launched late last year and now serves four times per week.

"TAME has decided not to fly just domestically but will start to fly internationally," Cuesta says.

TAME's international expansion will start in Panama, which Cuesta says will be served starting in December with one daily Airbus A320 flight from both Quito and Guayaquil. Cuesta says TAME has forged a partnership with Panama's Copa to codeshare on TAME's new services as well as Copa's existing 24 weekly flights to Ecuador.

"It's a very big market. Panama from Ecuador is huge," he says.

Cuesta says TAME is now looking to forge alliances with other carriers throughout the Americas and is using Routes to meet up with potential airline partners. "We've been trying to make some contacts," he says. "We feel we need to be more aggressive."

High on Cuesta's priority lists is an alliance with a Canadian carrier as TAME sees potential in moving passengers between Canada and Ecuador via Havana.

TAME now flies to 19 destinations in Ecuador, down from 13 last year. Cuesta says TAME is owned by the Ecuadoran air force but is self-sufficient, traditionally using profits from trunk routes to subsidise routes to smaller communities. But new competition on trunk routes, particularly from LAN, has created overcapacity on trunk routes such as Guayaquil-Quito, forcing TAME to drop six unprofitable domestic markets last year.

The increase in competition domestically is also prompting TAME to think more about establishing an international network. TAME now carries about 200,000 passengers annually on international charter routes, but of its 1.4 million annual scheduled passengers, almost all are domestic.

TAME operates a fleet of nine aircraft consisting of three Airbus A320s, one A319, three Embraer 190s and two Embraer 170s. Cuesta says TAME has no plans to add aircraft next year but expects to expand its Airbus fleet in 2012 to support further international expansion.

Source: Flight Daily News