As pressure mounts from airlines, travelers and tourist-related businesses, a committee considering solutions to Cuenca’s airport restrictions is looking at resurfacing the current runway. The work would cost about $1.5 million and could be completed in a week to week-and-a-half.
Ecuador’s Civil Aviation Authority imposed wet weather take-off and landing restrictions on the airport two weeks ago. The move followed an April 28 accident in which a Tame Airlines jet skidded off the runway during a rain storm. The restrictions apply until August 23 and could be extended.
Committee member and Cuenca councilman Cristian Zamora says the resurfacing could cover the entire runway or just the sections where take-offs and landings occur. “This is a temporary solution but it would return the airport to normal operations,” Zamora said. “For the long term, of course, we need a more comprehensive solution,” he said.
Zamora says he has talked to Mayor Marcelo Cabrera about the proposal and that it will be discussed at the next municipal council meeting. “It is something we could accomplish is a relatively short period of time at a small expenditure,” he added.
Azuay Province Governor Juan Cristobal Lloret said that there is no guarantee that the the restrictions will be lifted after August 23. He said that there are uneven areas of the runway that allow for the collection of water during rainy weather and said these need to be repaired. He also said that the crown of the runway should be elevated by several centimeters to allow improved run-off. Zamora said that his plan would take care of both problems.
Cabrera has proposed a $30 million plan to extend the runway by several hundred meters to the south but said it would have to wait until the next budget year. The project would involve condemning a number or properties and closing streets in the neighborhood between the end of the current runway and Av. Huayna Capac.
The tourism industry says that cancelled flights are keeping visitors away from Cuenca and causing financial distress for tour companies and hotels. On Tuesday, the city’s hotel association said that occupancy rates have fallen to 30% since the airport restrictions were imposed. Hotels in the historic district have also suffered loses due to tram construction.