Cuenca airport and business officials are worried about the affect Quito´s new international airport, scheduled to open in October, will have on local air service.
The new airport, located 20 kilometers east of downtown Quito, near Tababela, will be one of the most modern in South America, offering expanded passenger and freight capacity as well as a longer runway.
The problem, everyone agrees, is transportation between the new airport and Quito. Average drive time between Tababela and downtown Quito is two hours and taxi drivers say they plan to charge between $25 to $30 for the trip. Those who drive the road say that traffic is stop and go for 18 hours a day. Although there are plans for a more affordable bus shuttle service, the shuttle is estimated to take 15 minutes longer to cover the route.
According to Matias Abad, vice president of the Cuenca Chamber of Commerce, the time and expense of travel from the new airport could be a deal-killer for Cuenca business people who make up the majority of travelers beween Cuenca and Quito. “Now, it is possible to travel to Quito in the morning, have business meetings, and then return to Cuenca in the afternoon or early evening. With the new airport, you have to add four hours of travel time to the city, plus pay $50 or more in taxi fares. Many people will have to stay overnight, even if their business only takes two hours.” Abad adds: “I am afraid that there will be less air travelers between Cuenca and Quito.”
Currently, 54 of 71 Cuenca´s weekly flight departures are headed to Quito, accounting for 80% of Cuenca´s 300,000 annual passenger trips. “We are very concerned about how the road situation in Tababela will affect service between Cuenca and Quito,“ says Juan Ordoñez, Director of Cuenca´s Mariscal La Mar airport.
Both Abad and Ordoñez worry that because of the problems, the number of Cuenca – Quito flights might be reduced. Abad says that Tame and LAC, the new Cuenca-based airline secheduled to begin flights in August, are re-evaluating their schedules because of the new airport.
Cuenca expat Dan Mitchell, who travels back to the U.S. four or five times a year, says he plans to fly in and out of Guayaquil after October. “When I go back and forth to the States, I usually spend one night in Quito because of limited connections to Cuenca. Actually, I look forward to it because I like visiting museums and trying out new restaurants in Quito.”
Mitchell says the driving time between Quito and the airport makes his current plan impractical. “I´m not particularly fond of Guayaquil but at least they have hotels reasonably close to the airport.”
The transportation problem between the new airport and Quito is the result of limited road access, everyone agrees. Currently, there is only one direct route between the airport and Quito. It carries almost 60,000 vehicles a day and estimates by airport officials are that the new airport will add an additional 8,000 and 10,000.
Airport officials say that current and planned construction on two new roads will alleviate the congestion, but critics disagree.
“This could be nightmare that continues for years," says Rodrigo Perez, spokeman for the Quito Chamber of Industries. He says that the new construction is needed simply to keep pace with growth in the booming suburban area east of Quito. “This is the fastest growing part of Ecuador and the new construction probably won´t even keep up with the demand of new residents.”
In addition to Quito and Guayaquil, five Ecuadorian airports are certified international destinations, but national aviation officials say that none of them will handle long-distance international flights any time soon. “Cuenca would be the next logical candidate because of the large number of immigrants from Azuay and Loja provinces who live in the U.S., and because it is the third busiest airport in the country,” says Quito airport consultant Carlos Moreno. Moreno adds that Manta has become a major international cargo airport but that it has limited passenger demand. "You won´t see internaitonal passenger service there for years."
Cutline: An American Airline jet was the first to touch down at the new Quito airport in late June.