As some countries look to re-open their borders, Colombia is going the other way. This week, under a health emergency declaration, Colombia extended its border closures through to August 31. While the country has had reasonable success at keeping C-19 infection rates down, international flights will remain grounded until the health emergency declaration lapses at the end of August.
Current Colombian border closure order now extended by three months
Colombia stopped all commercial flying on March 23, immediately before the country went into a strict lockdown regime.
The flying ban and wider economic repercussions proved a tipping point for Avianca, causing the national carrier to file for bankruptcy.
Since Colombia’s borders were closed and flights banned, only approved emergency and repatriation flights have operated. Countries such as Germany, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Spain, and the United States have all been given the green light to airlift out their citizens.
As of May 11, the United States had sent 32 flights into Colombia to repatriate 3,349 of its citizens.
But it will be some time until the familiar colors of an American Airlines plane are regularly seen again at Bogota’s El Dorado International Airport. The original border closure order, due to expire shortly, was extended until the end of August on Wednesday.
“The restriction on international air transport goes hand in hand with the health emergency, i.e., until August 31. Until that date, international flights are not expected to be resumed,” said Colombia’s transportation minister, Angela Maria Orozco, in an interview this week.
No domestic flights in Colombia until July at earliest
Colombia’s decision to ground flights sees it in lockstep with many other countries in the neighborhood. Argentina, Peru, Ecuador, El Salvador, and Panama have all grounded commercial flights.
Colombia has one of the most stringent general responses to C-19 in the world. But this had had a dramatic impact on local airlines like Avianca. Despite entering bankruptcy, Avianca had hoped to resume domestic flying in June.
But at the same time as announcing the extension of international flight bans, Angela Maria Orozco poured cold water on those hopes this week. When asked about the resumption of domestic flying, the minister said domestic flights remain grounded and will not resume until at least July.
“We are reviewing how the pandemic evolves, and decisions will be made depending on that.”
No good news for bankrupt Avianca
Colombia’s 100-year-old national carrier was under pressure well before the pandemic hit, and the Colombian Government initiated its lockdown procedures. Earlier this month, Avianca filed for Chapter 11 protection in a New York court.
At the time, the airline said C-19 had proved a tipping point for them, saying their revenue had been cut by 80% since flights were grounded in March.
But Avianca hoped to use the provisions of Chapter 11 to restructure and resume flying again.
“We are committed to maintaining connectivity for people, families, and businesses, and we look forward to gradually resuming our passenger flights as travel restrictions are lifted,” said Anko van der Werff, Avianca’s CEO earlier this month.
In 2019, Kingsland Holdings Limited, an independent third party of United Airlines, took control of Avianca Holdings, the parent company of Avianca.
This week’s decision by the Colombian Government dashes Avianca’s hopes of resuming flights soon. Hosing down hopes, Colombia’s President, Ivan Duque, was emphatic when he said;
“I do not see, in the short term, that we will have the possibility of re-establishing international transport.”