SAN JOSE, Costa Rica–During the past 26 years, hundreds of airlines and airports across every continent have benefited from Skytrax Audit and Quality advisory services, as the British audit company has also helped them to improve and develop the customer experience. Recently Skytrax chose the best airports in Latin America (Central America, South America and Caribbean). For the region of Central America and Caribbean the Juan Santamaria International Airport of Alajuela/San Jose is the second best, just after Panama City’s Tocumen. The Panamanian terminal got the awards as the “Best Airport” and the “Best Airport Staff” at the World Airport Awards 2015 ceremony. In the list of the 10 best several Central American airports are also mentioned as Oscar Arnulfo Romero International Airport of El Salvador and La Aurora International Airport of Guatemala City. None of the airports of Honduras or Belize made the list. The ranking is made up by interviews made to more than 13 million passengers in 550 airports and 112 countries. The interviews evaluate the total experience of the passenger with 39 products and airport service areas like easy access, public transportation, comfort, cleanliness and the personal service offered by the airport employees. (The number in parenthesis indicates the position of the airport).
- Tocumen International Airport, Panama City (1)
Until last September 2014 the Panamanian terminal reported passenger traffic of over six million, an increase of 10% compared to 2013. The airport that is serviced by 19 passenger airlines and 14 cargo airlines is going through an expansion with the construction of the South Concourse that should be finished by 2017 putting Tocumen as the most modern airport in the region. The Panamanian terminal has been able to attract several European carriers like Air France, KLM, TAP Portugal and the German carrier Lufthansa which will start flights in November 2015.
- Juan Santamaria International Airport, Alajuela/Costa Rica (2)
For mid 2015 the airport that services the Costa Rican capital should have a new commercial area and two additional boarding gates in the Eastern area of the terminal. AERIS, the private company that manages the terminal announced it will build a terminal for domestic flights (SANSA and Nature Air) with full comfort and will be ready by the end of 2016. Still the new construction of the Western area (where the maintenance hangars of COOPESA are located) has not started. The Juan Santamaria International Airport hopes to attract more airlines from Europe and South America in order to compete with the Panamanian airport that is known as the best in the region. It is expected the new start-up Air Costa Rica will use this airport as its main hub.
- Oscar Arnulfo Romero International Airport (Comalapa), El Salvador (3)
The big problem that CEPA (the Salvadorian government company that manages the airport) has are funds in order to develop the expansion Master Plan of the airport. The project has been paralyzed for the past two years. The terminal has only a capacity of 1,6 million passengers and its hoped once the expansion is done, the amount of passengers handled can double. At the moment just some small remodeling has been done and airlines like Colombian Avianca that uses the airport as its main Central American hub suffers with almost an operationally collapsed terminal. The airport does not receives a “face lift” since the late 80s. Low cost carrier VECA Airlines uses the airport as its hub.
- Augusto Cesar Sandino International Airport, Managua (8)
This is the main international airport in Nicaragua and offers non-stop flights to 12 destinations. Panamanian COPA Airlines moves up to 30% of all the air traffic at this terminal. Since 2011 the passenger traffic has been increasing annually at 4,1%. In three years the country will have a new international airport in Rivas that is expected to offer flights to Asia. There is no more Nicaraguan flag carrier, reason why the Augusto Cesar Sandino International Airport is not a hub.
- La Aurora International Airport, Guatemala City (10)
Located in Guatemala City’s Zone 13, this airport, once Pan American’s Central American hub has a runway of almost 3000 meters and it was fixed in 2010. Recently a new advanced system of baggage transport and security protection was introduced. The investment was of up to 1,43 million dollars. TAG is the only Guatemalan carrier (as Aviateca was totally absorbed by Avianca) and operates small prop planes from their private hangars, not using the main international terminal.
SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador–VECA Airlines (Vuelos Economicos de Centro America) the new start-up airline and El Salvador’s flag carrier established in late 2013 in San Salvador, El Salvador is close to start its international operations. The main airline hub is located in San Salvador at Monseñor Óscar Arnulfo Romero International Airport (formerly Comalapa International Airport). The airline is expected to commence service in June 2014 with regional service to major cities in Central America. VECA Airlines is expected to start their services with two Airbus A-319 leased from lessor International Lease Finance Corporation (ILFC). The first of these, a former Cyprus Airways aircraft, has already been delivered to the carrier, while its sistership is being prepared in Miami, Florida ahead of its official handover to the start-up. Both aircraft will be configured in a single-class, 144-seat economy class arrangement. The start-up intends to bring competition into the Central American market following the recent merger of Avianca and TACA Airlines. Several former TACA Airlines employees work now at VECA Airlines, the new runner up as the Salvadorian major airline after the absorption of TACA Airlines by the Colombian flag carrier. It is unclear if VECA Airlines will expand it’s “Wings” beyong the Central American countries but Salvadorian and Nicaraguan authorities hope the airline would open flights to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, New York and Washington-DC. VECA Airlines will operate to Guatemala City, San Pedro-Sula, Managua, Panama City and San Jose, Costa Rica. The Juan Santamaria International Airport will be VECA Airlines secondary airport.
SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador–The first LCC (Low Cost Carrier) in Central America, VECA Airlines (Vuelos Economicos Centro Americanos) is expected to start operations very soon. The airline will operate two Airbus A-319s from its hub at Comalapa International Airport of El Salvador to all the Central American capitals and important cities: Guatemala City, San Pedro-Sula, Tegucigalpa, Managua, San Jose and Panama City. VECA Airline is hoping to break the duo-poly of the Central American traffic of both Avianca (former TACA Airlines) and COPA Airlines of Panama. Several former TACA Airlines employees work at VECA Airlines, the new runner up as the Salvadorian flag carrier after the absorption of TACA by the Colombian flag carrier. VECA Airlines is one of the three Central American carriers hoping to take off in 2014. The other two airlines are from Costa Rica: Ticos Air and TIA (Tica Air International) owned by Air Panama. Both projects have been slow to start, and now Costa Rican pubkic opinion is skeptical the airline owned by Gino Renzi (Ticos Air) will ever take off. In the meantime, VECA Airlines is ready for take off.
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica–The main stockholders of Air Panama, George Novey and Eduardo Stagg have now invested in Costa Rican start-up Tica Air International. Carlos Viquez, the representative of the Costa Rican airline informed that Air Panama will transfer one of its Boeing 737-300 to the start-up for the opening of the route San Jose-Miami (that was abandoned in January by Avianca). “Costa Rica has always been a good place to invest and now more than ever with Avianca’s departure of several non-stop markets” said Eduardo Stagg, CEO of Air Panama. Viquez informed that it is expected for Tica Air International to start operations by December 2014. TAI is the second airline project in Costa Rica, after Gino Renzi’s Ticos Air. Alvaro Vargas, the Civil Aviation board (DGAC) director informed that Ticos Air still has not been able to move to the third phase of its certification, since it has not presented any of the 5 Airbus A-319s that Gino Renzi advised the airline would operate. Rumors in Costa Rica are that Ticos Air still has not been able to secure investors for the project. The advantage that TAI would have is the economic support from Air Panama, the second biggest and most important airline in Panama, that also operates flights to San Jose with a jet Fokker 100. “The idea is that both airlines should grow together, using scale economies”, conmmented Eduardo Stagg. Tica Air International is expected to open flights to Managua, David, Bocas del Toro and San Andres.
GEORGE TOWN, Grand Cayman–National flag carrier Cayman Airways Ltd. could enter a new phase of expansion during 2014 that could include new routes to Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia. The airline was established and started operations on August 7th, 1968. It was formed following the Cayman Government’s purchase of 51% of Cayman Brac Airways from LACSA (the now defunct Costa Rican flag carrier) and became wholly government owned in December 1977. A few months after it was formed, Cayman Airways flew its first international route to Kingston, Jamaica leasing a LACSA BAC-111-500. The airline acquired its first jet aircraft in 1978 and began services to Houston. In 1982 the airline acquired a Boeing 727-200 aircraft to strengthen the airline’s regional and international capability, also allowing for the introduction of first class service. These jets were eventually replaced with Boeing 737-300 series, and during the 1980s Cayman Airways offered scheduled or charter service to Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis, Newark, New York, Philadelphia, & St. Louis. As the national flag carrier for the Cayman Islands, Cayman Airways now operates non-stop Boeing 737 jet service between Grand Cayman and the following major US cities: Miami and Tampa, Florida; Washington DC; New York, New York; and Chicago, Illinois. Nonstop jet service is also provided between Grand Cayman and regional destinations, including: Kingston and Montego Bay, Jamaica; Havana, Cuba; and La Ceiba, Honduras.The airline’s Cayman Airways Express service also operates Twin Otter aircrafts between Grand Cayman and the Sister Islands of Little Cayman and Cayman Brac.
ATLANTA, Georgia–CNN (Cable News Network) has given out the list of the top ten destinations for 2014, being Costa Rica number seven. CNN advises the whole country is a “must” to visit, but specifically praises on Guanacaste Province and the Nosara Beach. “Its pristine beaches are the ones that are introducing new activities for families, that includes programs for babies to education and voluntourism for older children”, reported the expert in tourism Alvin Rosenbaum. Brazil (because of the World Cup) Panama (because of the celebration of 100 years of the Panama Canal) and Myanmar (former Burma) occupied the first three positions. Guanacaste is Costa Rica’s Riviera, often called “The Golden Coast” that features from ultra deluxe five star resorts to cozy B&Bs. Nosara Beach has an airstrip but the best way to reach Guanacaste is flying directly into Liberia International Airport.
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.
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.
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.
PANAMA CITY, Panama–Portuguese flag carrier TAP will be the newest airline to start services into Panama City’s Tocumen International Airport. The airline, member of Star Alliance has informed that will operate a Lisbon-Bogota-Panama City flight in 2014. TAP will be the fifth European carrier to operate to the Panamanian “super-hub” airport (Iberia, KLM, Condor and Air France operate non-stop flights to Tocumen). The airport is COPA Airlines connecting hub, called “The Hub of the Americas” and it is also the busiest airport in Central America. The second busiest airport in Central America is Costa Rica’s Juan Santamaria International Airport, but after Avianca’s dismantling of its hub, most probably this place will be taken over by El Salvador’s Comalapa International Airport.