Chilean-based airline Lan has been granted a two-year concession to operate domestic flights in Ecuador, according to Ecuadorian transportation officials. Lan's entry into the national market may also signal the beginning of international flights to Cuenca.
The concession grants Lan rights to fly to Guayaquil, Quito and Cuenca as well as to the Galapagos islands, Ecuador's top tourist destination. The initial agreement grants Lan rights for 35 Guayaquil to Quito weekly flights, and seven to to Cuenca from Guayaquil and Quito. Lan will also be able to fly once a week to the Galapagos Islands. The airlines says it will begin service at the end of April.
According to Guillermo Bernal, director of the national aviation council, the agreement is for two years. "It is our hope that Lan's entry into Ecuador's market will promote healthy competition and provide improved service to travelers."
Bernal said he didn't know how much the company plans to invest, but added that Lan had expected its participation would boost the nation air traffic by more than 20 percent. The South American airliner has said is reviewing its investment plans due to the global economy slowdown.
Ecuador's busiest route between the cities of Quito and Guayaquil registered more than half a million passengers in 2006, according to aviation authority data. Routes between Quito and Cuenca and Guayaquil and Cuenca carried almost 250,000 passesngers the same year.
Airport officials in Cuenca have been in discussions for several months with airlines about beginning international service to destinations in Peru and believe that Lan is the mostly likely carrier to open the new markets. Officials also believe that a Cuenca to Miami flight is a strong possibility. Cuenca's Mariscal La Mar airport is certified as an international airport.
Ecuadorian airlines Tame and AeroGal opposed LAN's application to operate domestic flights, arguing unfair competition with the major airline, one of the region's largest air carriers. Tame General manager Paul Street contends that the entry of Lan in to the domestic market will mean a reduction of passenger numbers for national airlines. "This is a limited market and our fear is that this will hurt Ecuadorian carriers."
Photo caption: Lan currently flies international flights to Quito and Guayaquil but the new agreement will extend service to Cuenca and the Galapagos.