Air Travel in Latin America: Still A Luxury?

Apr 2 2014, 2:32am CDT | by

Air transport can no longer be considered a luxury in Latin America, aviation executives said in Santiago recently.

The region is twice the size of Europe, but has fewer roads and rail lines. Such a lack of transportation infrastructure has left LATAM airlines Chief Executive Enrique Cueto begging for changes, including airport improvement.

“People confuse air transport with luxury, but air transport is a necessity,” Cueto said at a conference organized by the International Air Transport Association during the FIDAE air show in Santiago. “We need to connect through airplanes, not through trains like in Europe, which is a smaller region,” Cueto said.  

In Brazil, to travel to a city like Manaus, which will host several World Cup matches in June, there are only two options: plane or boat. Flying from Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo takes three to four hours, while a journey by boat up the Amazon to Manaus can last a week.

A scarcity of ground transportation is not the only obstacle. Some Latin American countries have raised passenger taxes for air travel, making it even more difficult to get around.

IATA Chief Executive Tony Tyler used South Korea and Singapore as examples of countries that have switched their views on air transport.

Some Latin American countries “are erecting physical and financial barriers to success, ignoring the lessons of places like South Korea, the Gulf or Singapore, which have placed aviation connectivity at the core of their development plans,” said Tyler at the FIDAE.

South Korea completed construction of the country’s largest airport, Incheon, in 2001 just before the 2002 World Cup. Incheon along with Singapore’s Changi Airport are often named among the best airports in the world for their immigration service and leisure amenities, among other things.

Airline executives are uncertain how long it will take authorities to improve airport infrastructure in Latin America, in line with some Asian countries. They do know the first step is to see flying as means of transportation for many and not just a wealthy few.

Source: Forbes Business


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