Following what he calls a “catastrophic” 2020, Cuenca’s Mariscal La Mar Airport executive director Juan Pablo Vega sees a strong rebound in 2021. “We suffered a 43 percent drop in revenue and a 60 percent drop in passengers this year, all of it due to the coronavirus, and we anticipate regaining much of that in 2021,” he says.
Total air passengers at the airport dropped from 30,000 in 2019 to 11,000 in 2020.
Among Vega’s key objectives is to restore the frequency of flights to 2019 levels. “Prior to the pandemic, we operated an average of 35 flights a week from the airport while today we only have 11,” he said. “We may not return entirely to pre-pandemic service levels by the end of 2021 but we believe we will be close.” The airport closed March 15 and resumed operation with three weekly flights during the first week of June. “We have come a long way but still have a long road ahead of us.”
According to Vega, the recovery depends on several factors beyond the airport’s control, including the success of the Covid-19 vaccination program and the public’s trust in air travel. :”We know there will be progress in both of these areas, it’s just a matter of how much. We remain optimistic.”
Part of that optimism is the expectation that two new airlines, Avianca and Ecuador Airways, will begin service in the first quarter of 2021. Currently, Cuenca is served only by Latam following the 2018 closure of government-operated Tame. “New airlines will introduce more competition to the market as well as increase the number of destinations. For the past two years, the only destination for Cuenca flights has been Quito. We hope to add Manta, Guayaquil and Loja in 2021.”
The airport plans major upgrades to its facility in 2021, with additions to passenger and commercial areas, installation of biosecurity and immigration features and reconstruction of the runway. According to Vega, the runway was resurfaced in 2016 but still needs structural improvements to meet international standards.
Most of the funding for the upgrades will come from a $9.3 million loan from the Development Bank of Latin America with the municipal and national governments contributing the balance.