The COVID-19 pandemic has cost Latin American airports over 775 million passengers in the last two years, said Rafael Echevarne, the Airport Council International Latin America & the Caribbean (ACI-LAC) general director. Across the region, airports and airlines have suffered from the many travel restrictions and almost zero economic support.
Losing millions of passengers
Prior to the pandemic, the airports in Latin America & the Caribbean were averaging 683 million passengers. Nonetheless, in the last couple of years, they have lost 775 million travelers.
Due to this crisis, the airports have lost approximately US$16.6 billion in revenue, added Echevarne during ACI’s Annual General Assembly in Cancun, Mexico.
Some countries have had a better recovery than others, though. Mexico, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic are Latin America’s main examples of good policies allowing the airline industry to recovery.
A few Mexican airports are already receiving more travelers than in 2019, like Tijuana and Cancun. Up to September, Tijuana had grown by 22%, while Cancun had a 12% increase compared to pre-pandemic numbers. Mexico’s passenger traffic is just 14.5% below 2019 levels, according to data provided by the local authorities. Many carriers, both domestically (like Volaris and Viva Aerobus) and internationally (like American Airlines), are already posting more significant traffic numbers in the country.
Likewise, the Dominican Republic airports have already grown by 9% compared to 2019 levels, as reported by Aviacionline. These three countries have benefitted from VFR and leisure travel as well as the absence of travel restrictions. Moreover, Mexico was the only country worldwide never to impose any type of restriction, said Echevarne.
New infrastructure is needed
In 2019, ACI-LAC projected the region to reach 1.6 billion passengers per year by 2040. Nonetheless, the crisis may push back this goal a few years, and the Latin American & Caribbean governments need to invest in the airport infrastructure, said Echevarne.
“We know we will get to those numbers eventually, and to allow that, the region needs investment in new airports and improving current infrastructure. Currently, we estimate the countries will invest up to US$94 billion up to 2040. Approximately US$41 billion will be used in greenfield projects.”
Several countries in Latin America have built or are building new airports. Honduras recently opened the Palmerola International Airport, and Mexico is constructing a new hub north of the capital city, for example.
The air transport ecosystem needs harmonization
One of the main issues the air transport industry has faced in the last two months has been the lack of harmonization. Every country has established its own rules and travel restrictions, hampering a coordinated recovery.
In Latin America, the lack of coordination is still very present. Martin Eurnekian, chairman of ACI, said,
“There is no harmony in terms of regulations—and that is a barrier to the growth of the intra-Latin American aviation industry. It is tremendously challenging to bring to the table governments to harmonize measures, but this is what many of our colleagues in the industry are asking for.”
Luis Felipe de Oliveira, ACI’s CEO, said regulators must consider what is ultimately best for consumers. In many instances, this means ensuring that existing infrastructure is used as efficiently as possible and enhancing connectivity to generate socio-economic benefits, he added.
What do you think about the impact that the airports in the Latin America & Caribbean region have felt? Let us know in the comments below.