Ecuador has taken further steps to liberalize its air transport industry in recent months, signing memoranda of understanding to establish open skies agreements with the US, Chile, the Dominican Republic and Kuwait. Pending finalization, the agreements will help stimulate international connectivity, opening up new markets for passengers and increasing trade opportunities.
Under current rules with the US, for example, US carriers can only operate a combined 120 roundtrips per week to Ecuador. Full implementation of open skies would therefore remove this restriction, paving the way for the entrance of new airlines, increased frequencies on existing routes and the launch of more city pairs.
“The government’s actions towards open skies agreements will definitely be a catalyst for airlines to develop and serve even more of the Ecuadorian market, providing access to other destinations,” said Ramón Miró, president and CEO of Corporacíon Quiport, the operator of Mariscal Sucre International Airport (UIO) in Ecuador’s capital, Quito.
Such liberalization would indeed come as a welcome boost for the airport as the recovery continues. Quito recorded international and domestic traffic growth of 73% and 43%, respectively, in 2021, compared with the previous year, representing an overall year-on-year increase of 57%. However, total passenger levels last year remained 52% down on 2019.
Miró said 2022 would be a year of “further recovery” and a return to pre-pandemic levels will take time. “The effect of the omicron variant has negatively impacted the first month of the year, mainly on domestic services. International flights have also suffered cancelations but to a lesser degree,” he added.
Quito expects traffic during the first quarter of 2022 to be lower than previous forecasts, but the airport hopes the recovery will gain momentum from March onward. It has already regained most of its domestic network, as well as mature international points like Bogota, Miami and Panama City.
New route successes also include LATAM Ecuador’s flights to Catamayo City Airport, and startup Equair’s services to Guayaquil and the Galapagos Islands. Ecuatoriana Airlines is also bidding to launch operations this year, initially operating a domestic network out of Quito.
“The entry of new airlines is great news for the sector, since the Ecuadorian market suffered from a lack of capacity on certain routes due to the bankruptcy of the state airline Tame, which was a very important player serving the domestic market,” Miró said. “These new airlines can compensate for the supply of capacity, thus benefiting the passenger, both in prices and in the convenience of itineraries.”
Ecuador’s former flag-carrier Tame ceased operations in May 2020 after its long-running financial struggles were compounded by the COVID-19 crisis. The airline had been Quito’s third largest in 2019, responsible for almost 20% of all departure seats during the year.
However, over the past 18 months, Miró explained that the airport has worked with its airline partners to help replace the lost capacity, particularly on domestic routes. As a result, data provided by OAG show that Avianca is offering 43,000 domestic departure seats from Quito in February 2022—a rise of 24% compared with pre-pandemic levels.
“Since the start of the mobility restrictions caused by the pandemic, the main interest of airlines has been to fly again as soon as possible,” Miró said. “We’ve worked hand-in-hand with all those involved in air transport in Ecuador, mainly governmental authorities and airlines, to immediately implement health protocols that allow the activity to resume.”
Quito is also said to be “very close” to securing agreements with an LCC to further boost its international links. New York-based JetBlue Airways is currently the sole lower-cost operator to serve the airport.