Colombia reopens. Will air travel demand materialise?
The decision by Colombia’s government to resume some commercial aviation operations is being welcomed by the industry. But with the country’s COVID-19 case counts continuing to rise, the Colombian government will be monitoring the resumption of commercial flights carefully.
Just how fast demand will rebound in Colombia is tough to determine, given that the country’s commercial aviation sector has been shut down for nearly six months.
Before the pandemic Colombia was the third largest aviation market in Latin America, behind Brazil and Mexico. And the country’s airlines no doubt hope to ensure Colombia maintains its status in Latin American aviation.
- Colombia is restarting commercial flights in Sep-2020, after nearly six months of a complete shutdown.
- The country’s airlines are adding back both domestic and international flights, but how quickly demand in Colombia will spool up is still unpredictable.
The industry has been pushing Colombia to restart commercial airline flights...
Commercial aviation in Colombia has been shuttered since Mar-2020, when many countries in Latin America opted to cease commercial flights to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
But the region remains a hotspot for COVID-19: Brazil, Peru, Mexico and Colombia are among the top ten countries with the highest numbers of outbreaks. Colombia’s confirmed case counts are now well over 500,000.
COVID-19 cases: spread in Colombia, Feb-2020 to Aug-2020
During the past few weeks the industry has been pushing for Colombia and other countries in the region to resume commercial flights. IATA has noted that overland buses can operate in Colombia, “so aviation must be given this option”.
See related report: COVD 19. Will Colombia heed calls to reactivate its airspace?
... and now the country is resuming some commercial services in Sep-2020
IATA recently stated that it welcomes an announcement by Colombian President Iván Duque Márquez that 15 of the country’s airports would reopen in Sep-2020, including the country’s main gateway Bogotá International.
“While this is the first step towards a total reopening, we call on the government to continue the open channels of communication with the industry that will allow us to commence the process for also reactivate international flights", said Peter Cerdá, IATA’s Regional Vice President for the Americas.
IATA stated that the industry had demonstrated that all safeguards exist to restart the industry through the transport of 70,000 passengers that had travelled during the past five months on humanitarian flights, and on the first test route between Bucaramanga and Cúcuta, which included 1,000 passengers.
"There are still several issues that need to be resolved soon, however, aviation will once again take off in Colombia. This will allow our industry to become one of the pillars of the economic recovery of the country after the pandemic”, said Mr Cerdá.
The Colombian government appears to be taking a cautious approach to the reopening of commercial aviation.
El Tiempo has quoted Colombia’s president Iván Duque Márquez, who said “throughout September 2020 we will observe the pandemic’s behaviour, how are the prevention measures, how prevention protocols are developing”.
Colombia's airlines are moving to restart domestic and international flights
Data from CAPA and OAG show that seats at Bogotá El Dorado International airport will move solidly off the bottom beginning in Sep-2020, as Colombia begins to resume air service.
Bogotá El Dorado International airport: capacity projections from 10-Aug-2020 to 24-Aug-2020
Colombia’s two largest airlines – Avianca and LATAM Airlines Colombia – are currently restructuring under the Chapter 11 bankruptcy process.
LATAM has stated that it plans to resume flights on 1-Sep-2020, and OAG shows that the airline is resuming flights from Bogotá to Barranquilla, Bucaramanga, Cali, Cartagena and Medellín. Throughout the month of Sep-2020 LATAM will add frequencies on those routes.
The country’s third largest operator, LCC Viva Air Colombia, is welcoming the relaunch of flights. Viva Air Group CEO Felix Antelo recently stated on his LinkedIn account that Viva Air Colombia would restart operations on 1-Sep-2020, noting, “The time to fly in Colombia has finally arrived.”
CAPA's sister publication Routes Online has reported that in addition to resuming domestic flights, Viva Air Colombia is adding international flights from Bogotá to Lima, and from Medellín to Lima and Miami.
In Sep-2020 Avianca is also adding back service from its largest hub in Bogotá, and according to schedules in OAG, also plans to operate international flights from Bogotá to Punta Cana, Quito, Mexico City, Miami, New York JFK, Panama City Tocumen, Aruba, Cancún, São Paulo, Guayaquil and Madrid.
Demand patterns will be watched closely as Latin countries start to resume flights
Passenger levels in Colombia were growing at a steady rate before the pandemic. Data from Colombia’s government show that the country posted passenger growth of approximately 7% in 2019, to 45 million passengers. However, for the first six months of 2020 just 10 million passengers travelled by air.
It will take some time for demand in Colombia to rebound. Reuters has recently reported that the credit ratings agency Fitch expects Colombia’s economy to contract by 7% during 2020, and the country could possible lose its investment grade. Fitch does project economic growth of 5% in Colombia during 2021.
One of the factors in Colombia’s solid passenger growth during the past few years is an expanding middle class that has benefitted from more discretionary income for air travel. It could take some time for the country’s middle class to build back its respective coffers. Additionally, as is the case with other regions of the world, the aviation industry in Colombia needs to communicate the measures it is taking strongly, to reassure passengers and to ease any anxiety customers could have about air travel.
Colombia's airlines know a long road lies before them in restoring air travel demand
Airlines in Colombia and worldwide are working under a new reality as COVID-19 continues to disrupt the industry.
Colombian operators are no doubt welcoming the opportunity to restart services, but they are not blind to the fact that demand patterns will remain highly unpredictable for the foreseeable future.