On Sunday, December 20, start-up airline EcuAir will join Latam, Avianca and Aeroregional in Ecuador’s struggling air passenger market. EcuAir’s first flight departs Guayaquil’s José Joaquín de Olmedo Airport, bound for Quito, at 8 in the morning.
In early 2022, EcuAir’s owners say the airline will operate flights between Guayaquil and Quito on its two Boeing 737 aircraft. By mid-year, they hope to add service to the Galapagos, Cuenca and Loja. “The market is recovering but very slowly so we will expand as passenger demand rises,” says the airline CEO Gabriela Sommerfeld. “We are optimistic that air travel will return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2022 and early 2023 and are prepared to take advantage of the trend.”
Tourism and business leaders say it is difficult to predict the recovery, noting that growth in 2021 over 2020 has been slow. From January and October of this year, Latam, Avianca and Aeroregional flew 933 971 passengers on domestic routes, 8.2 percent more than the 862 683 in the same period of 2020. “The growth has lagged behind what we had hoped for but we are still under pandemic conditions,” says Marco Subía, president of the Association of Airline Representatives in Ecuador.
He added: “We are still down more than 70 percent in passenger miles from 2019. We are hoping for a strong 2022 but now we have to wait to see the impact of the new Covid-19 variant from Africa. The pandemic has been devastating for the market.”
Subía welcomes EcuAir and says there is plenty of room for expansion, including service by Ecuatoriana Air, expected to begin in January. “We need more airlines and more routes to recover the service that Tame left behind when it ended service in 2019. There are four airports that have no service at all but we need to see a strong recovery before commercial airlines will consider resuming that service.”
According to airline officials, only Quito, Guayaquil, Cuenca, Manta and the Galapagos were profitable routes for the airlines in 2019. “That remains the case today but only because there are less than half as many flights as there were two years ago,” Subía says.
Sommerfeld says EcuAir will focus on the domestic market. “We want to be a player in recovery of the internal market, to increase our destinations within the country as well as the frequency of our flights. At this point, we have no interest in flying internationally.”
In its first month of operation, EcuAir will charge $125 for a round-trip between Guayaquil and Quito. The charge includes one checked bag of up to 23 kilos.