During its first three months of operation, the new Quito airport at Tababela reports a 30% decrease in the number of domestic travelers compared to the same period in 2012.
The Quito Chamber of Tourism blames the drop on the extra time and expense required for passengers to travel back and forth to Quito as well as weather-caused flight delays.
"We believe the airport, both for users and for the airlines, is proving to be terribly expensive and inconvenient," says Raul Garcia, president of the chamber. “The services we're getting are not what we were promised." He also claimed that fog is causing more delays than at the old airport and that airport managers were aware of the situation before the airport opened.
Airport authorities say they believe the drop in passengers is temporary and will return to normal levels as operations improve and as road work reduces the drive time from the airport to Quito. They also deny that weather conditions are worse in Tababela.
The Ecuadorian Association of Airlines has voiced concerns but say they are withholding judgement for a few months. Macro Subía, association president, says that the initial reduction in in-country travel was anticipated. He also points out that the number of international air passengers arriving and departing Quito has held steady so far.
Garcia worries that travel time to and from Quito and the airport will force permanent changes in Ecuador air travel. “As word gets out about the problems in Quito, I believe you will see more international travel going through Guayaquil for passnegers going to destinations other than Quito. This will be especially true for passengers going to the Galapagos, Cuenca and the coast.”
He mentioned that passengers heading to Cuenca can fly to into Guayaquil and take a shuttle van for $12 to $14 to Cuenca. “It only takes three hours overland. Before, many of these passengers were flying into Quito, then flying on the Cuenca.”
He added that he would not be surprised if an airline decides to fly internationally to Cuenca. "There is a great deal of travel between the U.S. and Cuenca because of the large number of Ecuadorians from Azuay Province and southern Ecuador living in the States. Flights between Cuenca and the U.S. might be economically feasible."
According to both airport management and the Chamber of Tourism, the reduction in domestic passngers is mostly due to businesses reducing their trips to Quito. “Before Tabebela opened it was easy to fly to Quito for business and return the same day. It’s sitll possible but travelers have to leave Guayaquil and Cuenca earlier and return home later. Then, they have to pay $50 to $60 for trips to Quito and dd another two to three hours to their day.”
A survey of businesses in Guayaquil and Cuenca, taken by the El Comercio newspaper, showed that many were reducing the number of trips they take to Quito, relying more on video conferencing and telephone calls.
Airport officials deny critics' claim that the new airport has more weather delays than the old one. "It's not true," says a spokeman for airport management company, Quiport, which oversees operations in Tababela. "Over a year's period, there will be no more closures than at the old airport. It is true we have experienced some bad weather since we opened but this situation will improve."