Although passenger numbers remain far below those at the beginning of the year, Juan Pablo Vega, director of Cuenca’s Mariscal La Mar Airport, says conditions are steadily improving. On Saturday, he announced that Colombia-based Avianca has agreed to begin flights to Quito in January or February 2021.
Avianca will join Latam-Ecuador, the only airline currently serving Cuenca.
“Avianca is operating in Quito and Guayaquil and is looking to expand its market in Ecuador,” Vega said. “Despite the losses they have suffered, airlines realize that now is the time to position themselves for the recovery. The departure of Tame has opened new opportunities for the industry and we hope that Cuenca will benefit from this.”
In September, Aerolíneas Ecuatorianas said it will begin operations in early 2021 and plans Cuenca-to-Manta and Cuenca-to-Guayaquil flights in its schedule. The airline, which operated in Ecuador in the 1980s and 1990s, is reorganizing with U.S. investors and plans to operate a fleet of smaller prop-jets. Ecuatorianas has been granted permission to fly to Cuenca by the National Civil Aviation Council.
To add new airlines, Vega says, it is critical that Cuenca continues to add passengers. “We expect the growth to continue and, given the reality of the pandemic, we cannot complain at our progress to date,” he says. “We were closed entirely for three months and had only 550 passengers in the two weeks we were open in June. At that time, we had only two Latam flights a week and today we have 11 or 12, so we are making progress. Our passenger count is now almost 2,000.”
Vega says the airport continues to suffer from an unpaid debt from Tame as well as empty commercial spaces. “We are told that the government will pay the Tame bill — about $60,000 — this month,” he said. “Of the 34 commercial rental units at the airport, only 26 are currently occupied. As air travel picks up, we expect to rent more and this will improve our financial situation.”
Cuenca municipal councilman Cristian Zamora welcomes the news of Avianca’s entry into the local air travel market. “It is not economically healthy to have only one carrier serving the city — we need at least two to create competition to keep ticket prices affordable,” he says. “I’m also happy about the possible return of Ecuatoriana, especially their plans to have direct service to Guayaquil and Manta. This is good news for the tourism market.”