Airports poised to reap benefits of Cuban exile travel.
There's no question airports and air transport in general have received an important jolt from Cuba's growing tourism, which expanded from only 325,000 visitors a year in the late 1980s to 2.35 million visitors in 2008.
Along with investments in hotels and other tourist infrastructure oriented to lure foreigners, international airports are getting funds to upgrade and modernize existing facilities, and even to build new terminals and runways.
Some of these investments are being made with foreign capital. In the 1990s, Canada's Intelcan Technosystems built a new terminal at Havana's Jose Marti International Airport for $52 million. The same company was involved in upgrading projects at Cayo Largo, Holguin, Camaguey and Varadero.
Efficiency has been a critical issue for Cuban airports and the state has been forced to subsidize airports--particularly those with little or no international traffic. Since 2002, Spain's Aeropuertos Espanoles y Navegacion Aerea (AENA) has operated Jardines del Rey International Airport at Cayo Coco, in north-central Cuba.
At present, Cuba has 10 international airports serving mostly tourists and Cuban exiles visiting family on the island; they also handle domestic traffic. Not all airports, however, carry similar loads.
While Havana's Jose Marti and the Juan G. Gomez Airport in Matanzas have nominal capacity for 2,700 and 1,200 passengers/hour, respectively, the Sierra Maestra International Airport in Manzanillo can handle only 50 passengers an hour and Jaime Gonzalez Airport in Cienfuegos has capacity of only 300 passengers per hour.
And not all airports share the same domestic load. Havana's Jose Marti has regular links with all of Cuba's other airports and capacity for 600 domestic passengers an hour. But domestic traffic is nearly nonexistent at the Jardines del Rey airport in Cayo Coco, or the Vilo Acuna airport in Cayo Largo del Sur.
The biggest development underway now is completion of an international airport at Las Brujas--along the northern shore of central Cuba--to serve the tourist hub slowly growing in Cayo Santa Maria and Cayo Las Brujas.
When finished, this airfield will make the destination more attractive by shaving nearly two hours off total travel time, since visitors now arrive at Santa Clara's Abel Santamaria International Airport and travel by bus to their final destinations.
Domestic air traffic are clearly of lesser importance. Lacking investments and with less attractive facilities, the 12 airports serving only domestic routes tend to be neglected.
Some of them, like the airports in Bayamo, Nicaro and Guantanamo, are located far from any major tourism or economic hubs and have very limited traffic.
The one exception to this is probably Aeropuerto Nueva Gerona on the Isle of Youth, which has a new terminal and airstrip.
According to Gen. Rogelio Acevedo, president of the Instituto de Aeronautica Civil de Cuba, the government pays 91% of each domestic air ticket, while the other 9% is paid by the traveler.
Cuba's Oficina Nacional de Estadisticas reports the number of domestic travelers unchanged for the past eight years at 600,000, except for a brief spike in 2006 to 700,000. In 1998 and 1999, the number of domestic travelers was reported at 800,000 and 900,000 respectively. At less than 2,500 tons per year, domestic cargo handled at Cuban airports is very limited.
Cuba has plenty of military airports. Not just the five airbases listed here, but in fact almost all airports, domestic or international, also serve as military facilities with bunkers for fighter jets and rocket-launching pads the most visible defensive preparation.
Some airfields, however, are exclusively for military use and could be reconverted into civilian airports in the future--especially around Havana, where the airbases at Managua or Playa Baracoa both have good highways linking them to the city. This could ease any future traffic increase at Jose Marti International.
For a number of years the Baracoa military airport has been used by AeroGaviota--an airline managed by the Revolutionary Armed Forces--for civil purposes, commonly as an executive airport connecting to the most relevant tourism hubs.
A number of Cuban airstrips do not servie any regular domestic route. These airfields are rather executive airports or military spare landing strips, whose traffic could be boosted by a revitalization of the Cuban economy. Some airstrips listed by Cuban authorities or international agencies are currently abandoned.
If U.S. laws restricting Cuban-American exile travel to the island are lifted as President Obama promised during his campaign, the impact on Cuba's airports would be significant. Airports in Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Holguin, Santa Clara, Camaguey and Cienfuegos would all reap the benefits of a steady flow of visitors.
Of the estimated 1.4 million Cubans living in the United States, 500,000 arrived within the last 15 years and maintain close ties with relatives on the island. With affordable prices and no restrictions, this community will travel often to Cuba.
BY OUR HAVANA CORRESPONDENT
AIRPORT NOMINAL CAPACITIES Number of passengers served per hour Airport/Terminal Capacity Camaguey 600 Cayo Coco 600 Cayo Largo del Sur 500 Cienfuegos 300 Havana Terminal 1 (Domestic flights) 600 Terminal 2 (U.S. flights) 600 Terminal 3 (International flights) 1,500 Holguin 1,200 Manzanillo 50 Santa Clara 600 Santiago de Cuba 800 Varadero 1,200 Sources: Instituto Cubana de Aviacion Civil; Cuban media reports CUBAN AIRPORTS Runway Official ICAO MTA length Location name code code (In feet) INTERNATIONAL Camaguey Ignacio Agramonte MUCM CMW 9,800 Caya Coco Jardines del Rey MUCC CCC 9,800 Cayo Largo del Sur Vilo AcuHa MUCL CYO 9,800 Cienfuegos Jaime Gonzalez MUCF CFG 7,800 Havana Jose Marti MUHA HAV 13,100 Holguin Frank Pais MUHG HOG 10,300 Manzanillo Sierra Maestra MUMZ MZO 7,800 Santa Clara Abel Santamaria MUSC SNC 9,800 Santiago de Cuba Antonio Maceo MUCU SCU 13,100 Varadero Juan G Gomez MUVR VRA 11,400 DOMESTIC Baracoa Gustavo Rizo MUBA BCA 6,000 Bayamo C.M. de Cespedes MUBY BYM 7,200 Ciego de Avila Maximo Gomez MUCA AVI 11,600 Guantanamo Mariana Grajales MUGT GAO 8,000 Las Brujas Cayo Las Brujas MUBR 5,900 Las Tunas Hilos. Ameijeiras MUVT WTU 5,900 Moa Orestes Acosta MUMO MOA 5,900 Nicaro Nicaro MUNC ICR 5,900 Nueva Gerona Rafael Cabrera MUNG GER 8,200 Pinar del Rio La Coloma MULM LCL 6,500 Sancti Spiritus Sancti Spiritus MUSS 5,900 Trinidad Alberto Delgado MUTD TND 5,900 MILITARY Havana Ciudad Libertad MULB 6,775 Managua, Havana Managua MUMG 9,334 Playa Baracoa Playa Baracoa MUPB 7,500 San Antonio San Antonio MUSA 11,800 San Julian San Julian MUSJ SNJ 8,400 AIRSTRIP (military and/or civil) Florida, Camaguey Florida MUFL 3,250 Mariel, Havana Mariel MUML 5,900 Mayajigua Mayajigua MUMJ MJG 4,250 Pinar del Rio Pinat Norte MUPR QPD 3,600 San Nicolas, Hav. San Nicolas MUNB QSN 3,300 Santa Lucfa, Cam. Roberto Yaguero MUSL 5,900 Siguanea, I. of Y Siguanea MUSN SZJ 6,300 ICAO-International Civil Aviation Organization IATA-International Air Transport Association
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|Date:||Feb 1, 2009|
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