Month: December 2013

The End of an Era

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SAN JOSE, Costa Rica–December 30th. At the age of 92 years, Captain Otto Escalante Wiepking died, closing a golden chapter of the Costa Rican Civil Aviation. He was only seven years old when Charles Lindbergh visited Costa Rica in the “Spirit of St. Louis” and since then he knew deep inside his life would be connected with aviation. In 1939 a young Otto Escalante graduates from highschool and a year later starts working for TACA Costa Rica in the cargo department. Once the United States joins the Allies in the Second World War, the American pilots flying in Latin America were all requested to join the armed forces, opening the possibilities for young latin men to become commercial pilots. Otto Escalante travels to the U.S. and in a year becomes a commercial pilot.  Escalante showed such professionalism, the United States Government gave him a scholarship at the Sky Harbour School of Aeronautics in Phoenix, Arizona. He returned to Costa Rica and works in several airlines like TACA Costa Rica and AVO. On March 12th 1948 he travels to Guatemala with Captain Guillermo Nuñez, flying two Douglas DC-3s. A day after Escalante and Nuñez returned to Costa Rica, the DC-3s heavy full of weapons and ammunition for Jose Figueres Ferrer’s National Liberation Army. In 1949 Otto Escalante returned to flag carrier LACSA and in 1960 he is appointed General Manager for the airline. Captain Escalante flew LACSA’s first jet in April 1967, a BAC-111-400 named “El Tico” and he kept working as a pilot until 1972 when he became CEO and President of the Board of Directors. Otto Escalante also founded Cayman Brac Airways (later Cayman Airways Ltd.) as a subsidiary of LACSA and was also SANSA’s President until he retired in 1989. Captain Escalante also served as a consultant for Aero Costa Rica S.A. (the other national airline that operated from 1992 to 1997). Today a great chapter of the civil aviation in this small nation is closed with a golden seal, that of a pioneer indeed.

Otto Escalante was LACSA's CEO and President until 1989.
Otto Escalante was LACSA’s CEO and President until 1989.
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Super Mega Airport

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RIO DE JANEIRO,Brazil–Aeroportos do Futuro will be the company to bring Rio de Janeiro’s Galeao-Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport to the next level, to convert it in a “Super Mega Airport”. ADF is a consortium made up by the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht and the Singapore Changi Airport and will operate the Rio airport for 25 years. Aeroportos do Futuro will invest 1590 million dollars for the remodelling and expansion of Galeao. The first phase will include 26 new gates, a new ramp and a new car parking lot. This phase should be ready by January 2016. The second phase will include more boarding gates and a new runway. The Galeao-Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport is the second busiest aiport of Brazil (just after Sao Paulo-Guarulhos). For 2038 the airport is expected to handle up to 60 milllion passengers a year, from 17 million what handled in 2013. The aiport is located 13 miles from Rio’s downtown at the Ilha do Governador (Governor’s Island) on the shores of Guanabara Bay. TAM, GOL, Avianca and Azul are the primary Brazilian airlines that operate from Galeao.

Aeroportos do Futuro will make Rio's Galeao a "Super Mega Airport".
Aeroportos do Futuro will make Rio’s Galeao a “Super Mega Airport”.

Conviasa to Nicaragua

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MANAGUA,Nicaragua–The Venezuelan flag carrier CONVIASA (Consorcio Venezolano de Industrias Aeronauticas y Servicios Aereos) started one weekly flight connecting Caracas with the Nicaraguan capital. The second Central American city after CONVIASA started daily flights to Panama City. The airline is going through expansion plans that include new Brazilian Embraer E-190s. In addition to Managua and Panama City the flag carrier connects Caracas with Bogota, Colombia; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Dominica, Grenada, Havana, Cuba; Madrid, Spain and Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago. Future cities include Georgetown, Guyana; Lima, Peru; Manaus and Sao Paulo in Brazil; Mexico City; Paramaribo,Suriname; San Jose, Costa Rica; San Salvador, El Salvador; and Santa Cruz, Bolivia. It also has been rumored CONVIASA will try to start non-stop flights to Miami, Florida or in any case via Managua. The airline has a fleet of one Airbus A-340-200, two Boeing 737-300, four Bombardier CRJ700 and six Embraer E-190s.

CONVIASA's E-190 are used for the Caracas-Managua run.
CONVIASA’s E-190 are used for the Caracas-Managua run.

Central American Airport Competition

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SAN JOSE, Costa Rica–The year 2014 will be the year of airport competition in Central America. As Panama City’s Tocumen International Airport attracts more airlines (the latest are Air France and TAP Portugal), the rest of the Central American airports will gear up to compete for the “second position”. San Jose’s  Juan Santamaria International Airport (probably the most modern of the region) suffered in May the unfortunate dismantling of old LACSA’s  hub. Juan Santamaria International Airport (JSIA) is just another point-to-point station in the Avianca route system, as practically all U.S. non-stop operations were transferred to El Salvador’s Comalapa International Airport. But AERIS, the private company that manages JSIA is focusing in 2014 to attract new airlines from South America, Europe, Russia and even Asia. AERIS will start the second phase of its expansion that includes several more gates that can handle wide-body aircraft like Airbus A-340-600 and B-747. The gate area will grow double in space by 2017. JSIA will become the hub for Costa Rican start-up Ticos Air.  CORIPORT S.A., the company that manages the other Costa Rican international terminal, Liberia’s Daniel Oduber International Airport  in the Guanacaste province hopes to also attract new customers like Southwest Airlines and Spirit Airlines. The Honduran government is hoping to jump start the project for Tegucigalpa’s new international airport in Palmerola, in order to finally shut down the second most dangerous airport in the world: Toncontin. The government in Tegucigalpa hopes  also to upgrade the infraestructure of San Pedro-Sula, Roatan Island and La Ceiba Airports. Managua’s Augusto Cesar Sandino International Airport and Belize City International Airport at the moment have no expansion projects. In 2014 El Salvador’s Comalapa International Airport will see the start of  construction. CEPA (the government agency that manages the airport) hopes to turn the air terminal in the most modern airport in Central America. The new Salvadorian low cost carrier VECA Airlines has chosen Comalapa International Airport to be its main hub.

Guatemala City's La Aurora International Airport is one of the most under used terminals of the region.
Guatemala City’s La Aurora International Airport is one of the most under used terminals of the region.

 Finally the Guatemalan government hopes to bring more airline clients to the modern La Aurora International Airport that after its remodeling is totally under used. The growth of tourism in the area will be the trigger for the international airports to modernize and expand.

Hyatt Resort in Guanacaste

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PAPAGAYO GULF, Costa Rica–On December 20th the Andaz Papagayo Resort, part of Hyatt Hotels and Resorts opened its doors. It is the only Andaz Resort in Latin America, (the other ten Andaz Hotels are in New York, San Diego, Hollywood, Napa, England, Holland, China and Hawaii. “We are sure that the beauty of the area, our capable staff and the products that we offer are the perfect combination for our guests to come back again to our resort” commented Michael Schmidt, General Manager of the Andaz Papagayo Resort. The hotel has 153 rooms, 21 of those are suites, two swimminmg pools, nine SPA rooms, a complete gym and three theme restaurants. The resort is only 45 minutes away from Liberia International Airport. The Andaz Papagayo Resort is the latest five start hotel property to open in the lush Papagayo Gulf in Guanacaste, part of the Costa Rican Golden Coast.

Hyatt Andaz Papagayo Resort is the latest five star property to open in the Golden Coast.
Hyatt Andaz Papagayo Resort is the latest five star property to open in the Golden Coast.

The Salvadorian Start-up

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SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador–For decades the airfares between the Central American capitals and most important cities have been as expensive or even more than a ticket to Miami, New York or Los Angeles. The Central American airlines of the 1970s like Aviateca, TACA International Airlines, SAHSA, TAN, LANICA, Aeronica, LACSA and COPA had almost an understanding of charging the same fares. In the 1990s when TACA International Airlines purchased the ill-managed Aviateca, SAHSA and LACSA, its merged consortium knowned as GRUPO TACA practically monopolized the intra-Central American market. Fares from San Salvador to Panama City could be as high as $500.00 and fares from San Jose to Guatemala City could be as high as $400.00. In 2009 when TACA Airlines and Avianca announced the merger between the two carriers, it was clear that the monopolistic practices of  the Central American market were going to be extended way beyond Colombia. In 2013 a group of entrepeneurs in El Salvador announced the creation of the first Low Cost Carrier (LCC) in the region under the name of VECA (Vuelos Economicos Centro Americanos). The airline is expected to operate from Comalapa International Airport (45 minutes away from San Salvador) to the capitals of Central America and important cities like San Pedro-Sula in Honduras and Liberia in Costa Rica. The airline will operate modern Airbus A-319s and will break the supreme monopolistic hold of both Avianca (the former TACA Airlines) and COPA Airlines, both carriers members of Star Alliance. In cities of the United States with high density Salvadorian population such as Los Angeles, Washington, New York and Houston the news of the Salvadorian start-up has been welcomed with enthusiasm. What is not clear yet is if VECA Airlines will ever spread its wings from El Salvador to the U.S. The airline is expected to start services in the first quarter of 2014.

VECA Airlines modern logo uses the colours of the Salvadoran flag.
VECA Airlines modern logo uses the colours of the Salvadorian flag.

Back to Basics

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SAN JOSE, Costa Rica–Back in 1979 the Costa Rican Flag Carrier LACSA decided to create a spin-off airline that would take over the domestic operation in the country. SANSA (Servicios Aereos Nacionales S.A.) was born operating two Douglas DC-3s. As LACSA’s “side-kick” domestic airline, SANSA adopted a very Costa Rican livery sporting the flag on the tail of the old DC-3s. After several years SANSA’s management decided to change the DC-3s for the Spanish C-212 Aviocars and the airline even adopted a special livery and a indigenous inspired logo. When parent company LACSA received the first Airbus A-320s in 1990 to replace the Boeing 727-200s, SANSA again adopted a “Costa Rican livery” for its C-212s and later for the Grand Cessna Caravans. In 1991 LACSA and SANSA were purchased by TACA International Airlines and merged into the TACA Group. SANSA adopted several liveries all influenced by the GRUPO TACA new image. In 2012 SANSA was renamed as SANSA Regional as a full member of the TACA Regional group of domestic airlines. In 2013  SANSA Regional’s management decided to go back to basics, to return to the original 100% Costa Rican image and drop the name “Regional”. The new logo was launched on December 17th through the social media sites and in January 2014 the airline will present the new livery on one of its Grand Cessna Caravans. SANSA is trying to recoup the perception that it is not only a Costa Rican carrier, but also the new Flag Carrier of the country after the full absortion of LACSA into the Avianca structure.

SANSA's new logo inspired in Costa Rica's flag and national blue.
SANSA’s new logo inspired in Costa Rica’s flag and national blue.