ALTA: Latam airline execs vary on airport development

Panama City
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Latin American airline executives have varied opinions on the state of airport development in the region.

Panama City's Tocumen is seen as a model for the region while many other facilities, including Bogota's El Dorado and those in Brazil, face limits.

"Panama [City] is a lego airport, where you start building up with little blocks as it grows," says Fabio Villegas, chief executive of AviancaTaca, at the ALTA Airline Leaders Forum 2012 in Panama City. "For us, each expansion [of El Dorado] will be subject to meetings."

Villegas and other executives say that while the new international terminal at El Dorado is an impressive facility but note that airline expansion will be limited as it has the same number of gates as the terminal it replaces.

Pedro Heilbron, chief executive of Copa Airlines, attributes Tocumen's success to the country's service economy and the significance of air transport to that economy.

Executives offered mild criticism of the three recently privatised airports in Brazil. Marco Antonio Bologna, chief executive of TAM, says that the process should focus on lower fees for airlines, rather than the highest upfront payment to the government.

"The expectations are high and we believe very good things will arise [from the concessions] because the costs of not complying would be high," says Jose Efromovich, president of Avianca Brazil.

Brazil's civil aviation agency (ANAC) awarded long-term concessions for the Brasilia, Sao Paulo Guarulhos and Viracopos-Campinas airports earlier this year. The winning concessionaires will make R24.5 billion ($11.8 billion) in upfront payments for the facilities and must invest R13.3 in upgrades and improvements to the airports.

Optimism is high that ANAC will improve the concession process with an increased emphasis on service during the second round, which will include the international airports in Belo Horizonte and Rio de Janeiro.

Copa's Heilbron rightfully points out though that Latin America's airport and infrastructure woes have "always existed", and it is really the airlines that have changed.

"Now we're competitive, successful and growing," he says.