Colombia closed its airspace between April and August 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic in a failed attempt to contain the disease. Since September, the local government has allowed the resumption of both domestic and international flights and has seen a quick recovery. But how good has it been?
The Colombian aviation sector is resilient
Historically, Colombia is a country that has managed to avoid significant economic crises. Unlike its South American neighbors, since the 1930s, it has only had three economic downturns, and none has happened in the last two decades.
Due to this strong economic performance, Colombia is resilient. So is its aviation sector. Juan Carlos Salazar, general director of Colombia’s aviation authority, recently said,
“2020 presented unprecedented challenges for aviation, but in Colombia was useful to demonstrate the resilience of our aviation sector that recovered 90% of its air routes within one month and regained confidence of the traveling public.”
In February 2020, Colombia was averaging over three million monthly passengers. The next month, the COVID-19 pandemic arrived with full force in Latin America and forced the local governments into action. Colombia saw a drop to 1.9 million monthly passengers.
Then, the Government decided to close its airspace, effectively grounding every flight in the country, except for humanitarian reasons. Colombia and Argentina gained headlines across the world because of their harsh measures against aviation.
But, since reopening, they’ve proved to have very different recoveries.
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Comparing Colombia and Argentina
Colombia went from having 25,000 passengers in August (all in humanitarian flights) to having 353,000 in September. Then, it doubled its growth again to 840,000 in October.
According to Salazar, for November, the Colombian aviation industry would have surpassed the 1.27 million passengers. For December, it would have grown to 1.80 million passengers, according to its estimates.
Once the Colombian civil aviation authority validates these figures, it would mean that the country closed the year 8% below its March levels. Nevertheless, there’s still a long way to go before it achieves a full recovery.
In contrast, the Argentinian recovery is far from this. By November, domestic traffic was 95.1% down its pre-COVID numbers. Internationally, the rally was slightly better, -93.4%.
Many factors have contributed towards the Colombian recovery, including the economic one. Meanwhile, Argentina was already in an economic downturn before the pandemic, and 2020 only aggravated the crisis. While Colombia is poised to fully recover from the pandemic within the next five years, Argentina might not be so lucky.
What to expect for 2021?
Three of the main six Colombian airlines are currently under some sort of financial reorganization. Avianca and LATAM are under Chapter 11 bankruptcies in the US but are expected to exit successfully in the second half of the year. EasyFly, a domestic ATR-based carrier, is in financial reorganization within the Colombian law.
Colombia recently gave SATENA, its State carrier, a millionaire bailout to keep it flying. Viva Air, the low-cost operator, is currently recovering fine from the pandemic, as well as Wingo.
We expect the Colombian aviation industry to recover in the first weeks of 2021. But, OAG expects a slowdown in the capacity recovery of South America in the next few weeks. It wrote,
“We have noted before that Latin America generally has been around six weeks behind the COVID-19 curve’s impact in other markets, and this growth may shrink away in the next few weeks with some countries reintroducing quarantine requirements on arrival last week.”
Despite that, we foresee a good recovery for the Colombian aviation industry in 2021. There will be new players in Ultra Air and a flying public ready to fly.
What do you expect of the Colombian aviation industry in 2021? Let us know in the comments.