Quito’s new Mariscal Sucre airport in Tababela continues to be plagued by weather and geographic problems that critics say were well-known from studies that date back 20 years.
On Monday morning, the airport was closed for an hour due to thick fog, keeping a number of national flights on the ground and diverting others, including international flights, to Guayaquil. It was the 19th airport fog closure in six weeks.
In February, fog forced a Lan Ecuador Miami to Quito flight to return to Miami and forced diversions of two dozen more flights to Guayaquil. From February to mid-March, the record shows that between 40 and 50 national flights were diverted to Guayaquil or Cuenca. About a third of those were cancelled.
“Going back to the late 1990s, we knew about the fog conditions in Tababela,” says Javier Lopez, a former university professor who worked briefly with the team that studied locations for the new airport. “Several of us pointed out that Tababela was a poor choice for this reason.”
Lopez says that the airport has received hundreds of complaints from passengers not only about fog delays and diversions, but also of rough landings and take-offs due to wind conditions.
“Another issue that was pointed out early in the process were the unpredictable wind currents caused by the deep valleys and ravines around the airport site,” Lopez said. “Almost everyone who frequently flies into and out of the airport, has experienced this and it is not pleasant.” He adds that he knows a number of people who refuse to fly out of Quito because of turbulence.
Luis Galarraga spokesman for the airport, known as Quiport, says that criticism of the airport’s location are exaggerated. “Most airports have closures occasionally, due to weather, and we are no different.”
He added: “Our biggest challenge has been connecting passengers to Quito and the new highways have accomplished this. The critics said that it would always take two hours from the city to the airport and now it’s 20 or 30 minutes.”
Lopez is not convinced. “The problem is that advice from experts was not followed in the siting of the airport. Now, we are paying the consequences,” he said.