The resurfacing of the Mariscal La Mar Airport runway cannot begin for at least 60 days, the CEO of the airport authority said on Thursday. “We must complete the technical studies before the work can start,” Fernando Arteaga said, adding that there are legal issues to resolve as well.
“We cannot afford to make a mistake this time so it is essential that our preparation is thorough and complete,” he said.
Arteaga said that only 50% of scheduled flights to Cuenca were able to land at the airport within the last week. Most of the blame, he says, is due to unseasonably wet weather. Late June through August is generally the driest time of the year in the southern Andes, he said. “Unfortunately, this year is different.”
Airport vendors and the tourism industry are being hard-hit by landing and take-off restrictions placed on the airport by the country’s civil aviation authority. Following an accident in which a Tame Airlines jet skidded off a wet runway in late April, the authority only allows use of the runway during dry conditions, and there has been precious little of that during the past month.
Tour operators say they work in a constant state of limbo, as they often don’t know if flights will land or take off until the last minute. Quito tour company owner William Rivera says he has lost thousands of dollars since the restrictions went into affect. “I have to pay for hotel and restaurant cancellations as well as portions of unused airline tickets,” he said. “Many times, I have to hire a bus on the spur of the moment to take clients back and forth to Cuenca and Quito. It’s terrible.”
Cuenca Mayor Marcelo Cabrero says that total economic loses due to airport conditions have so far totaled more than $20 million.
Once the technical studies are completed and plans are ready, resurfacing of the runway will take several weeks, Arteaga said. He added that all airport operations will likely be closed during the work. The work will cost an estimated $2.5 million, of which one million is on hand.