It has been more than a decade since Cuenca’s Mariscal La Mar airport hosted international flights but a recently opened airport immigration office means they could begin again.
Airport officials say that international flights, which would be to Peru and possibly Colombia, are not imminent but that discussions with airlines have been underway for several years.
The immediate impact of the addition of immigration services at the airport is that passengers headed to foreign destinations via the international airports in Quito and Guayaquil, can be cleared in Cuenca. “It means passengers leaving the country from Cuenca will be able to go directly to the international departure areas in Quito and Guayaquil,” said Gustavo Muñoz, director of the Corporation Cuenca Airport (Corpac).
Carina Argüello, Undersecretary of Ecuador’s Interior Ministry, said one of the objectives of the new immigration office was to make things easier for tourists. “The number of tourists visiting Cuenca is increasing rapidly and we want to provide a much service to the visitors as possible,” she said.
A second objective, said Argüello, was to serve the large number of Ecuadorians living overseas when they come home for visits. Azuay, Canar and Loja provinces have more citizens living overseas, mostly in the U.S., Spain and Italy, than other Ecuadorian provinces, she said.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, two airlines, now defunct, offered international flights to Cusco and Lima, Peru from Cuenca. Service was set to resume in 2010 by Star Peru Airlines, which had opened an office in Cuenca and said it would offer flights to Piura, Cajamarca and Chiclayo, but the plan was shelved when the airline ran into financial problems.
Ecuador’s civil aviation authorities say they do not expect to see international flights to such destinations as Miami and New York beyond those currently offered in Quito and Guayaquil any time soon. “When that happens, Cuenca would be the third full-service international airport,” a spokesman for Ecuador’s Dirección General de Aviación Civil said last year. “Because of the number of migrants living overseas who come from the Cuenca area, there is demand for direct flights and it will continue to grow.”
He added that there is little demand for international service in cities such as Manta and Salinas, two airports that, like Cuenca’s are certified for international flights.
The civil aviation office says that the Latacunga and Manta airports are becoming hubs for international cargo shipments and that they expect volume to grow.
For the record, the civil aviation authority says the top five airports in Ecuador, based on passenger traffic, are (in order): Quito, Guayaquil, Cuenca, Baltra (Galapagos) and Manta.