January 23, 2022

Aviation Club Center

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[Entrevista Exclusiva] a Rafael Echevarne Director of the Latin American Airports Council ACI-LAC

  1. What was it like to end 2020?

R. 2020 was the worst year in the history of the air transport industry. After a drop in traffic in April and May of more than 95% compared to the previous year, a timid but progressive recovery began, reaching December with 50% of the traffic of 2019.We continue to seek harmonization in the measures to be taken to enable the movement of people between the countries of the region and other parts of the world.

2 How does 2021 come in recovery and how do you see it end?

R. The situation in 2021 has not improved markedly since december 2020 levels. We continue with a decrease in traffic for the total region of approximately 50% compared to 2019. The situation remains very uncertain. At the beginning of June 2021, we still have major countries like Chile, Uruguay and Argentina with border closures, while other countries such as Mexico, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic and Colombia are open and without restrictions or Covid testing requirements. On the other hand, the situation in Brazil remains worrying, not only because of the restrictions and bans on the entry of passengers from that country.

An important factor for the region’s recovery to be accelerated is for states to remove severe restrictions, for example, flight restrictions and quarantines in some countries in the region, which generate a great impact on the industry by limiting passenger traffic, which has a very negative impact on the economies of the countries.

3. Do you think countries should still have flight restrictions?

R. Airlines and airports are complying with the protocols recommended by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) for the protection of their users, and it is essential to reiterate that air transport is not a vector of contagion. We believe that putting any kind of restriction on flights is not necessary. Another thing is to require the need for testing to prove that passengers are covid-free or have been vaccinated

4. Do you think that countries should require the vaccination certificate or the PCR to be able to move freely?

R. We are aware that countries require security measures to prevent further spread of the virus in their territories, therefore, the vaccination certificate and PCR tests are valid measures, however, we must be able to rely on technology to achieve an efficient articulation. Of course, it is important to achieve harmonisation between states and industry in order to take a firm step towards a complete recovery.

5- How much do you think will lead traffic back to pre-pandemic levels, in your opinion

R. There really is a big unknown in terms of recovery, since this will depend mainly on the pace at which vaccination campaigns evolve in the region, as well as the elimination of travel restrictions and requirements for the entry of foreigners into countries. We believe that despite the fact that traffic in Latin America has not fallen as much as in other parts of the world. According to ACI’s analyses, which coincide with many other studies, we believe that by late 2023 or early 2024, the industry should be at pre-pandemic levels.  

6- How do you see Argentina, Colombia, Brazil, Chile and Peru in the coming months?
R. These are very different situations in each of these countries. The case of Chile is paradoxical since despite having one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, the country remains closed to the entry of passengers who are not Chileans or non-residents in the country. Argentina is also a curious case because of the extreme limitations on the number of flights that can arrive each day in the country – with a limit to 2,000 seats a day. We believe that both countries are severely limiting air activity, which may have quite severe socio-economic consequences. Colombia has removed Covid testing requirements and there are no restrictions, which is very hopeful for the country to recover quickly. The case of Brazil is worrying, not because of the restrictions imposed by the country, but because of the epidemiological situation that has led other countries to impose bans or severe restrictions on the entry of passengers from Brazil.

7- What should governments change to improve the flow of airports respecting protocols?

R. We urge that no operational restrictions be imposed. Airports and airlines have shown that they are not vectors of contagion. Airports have been extremely responsible in implementing the protocols recommended by ICAO and WHO, as well as the U.S. CDC and Europe’s ECDC. Airports are probably the safest places – the measures are much more controlled than in other activities of daily life.

8- Have the region’s airports been hit hard just like the airlines? What about the existing concessions? Will there be extension of concession contracts? What has been the role and actions of ACI-LAC in supporting airports vis-eds to governments?

R. Latin American airports have reduced their revenues by more than 70%. Obviously, this is having a very severe economic impact, particularly considering that they have not received any financial support from governments. It is important to note that airports have not stopped operating and operating expenses have been maintained or even increased by reinforced cleaning protocols. Some concessions are being reviewed and their future remains in doubt as in some cases they are financially unviable.For this reason, we have called on governments to consider the situation and introduce measures, such as the extension of concessions, to allow concessions to survive.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, ACI-LAC has conveyed to countries the industry’s concern about this situation. We have also worked with other industry representatives, particularly the airlines, to get states to harmonise and standardise health protocols. ACI has developed a program called Airport Health Accreditation (AHA) that provides certification to airports that comply with the protocols recommended by ICAO and ACI in the “Aviation Business Restart and Recovery guidelines”