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Airports poised to reap benefits of Cuban exile travel.

Unlike Cuba's decaying road and rail networks, airports--at least those serving foreign tourists--are a bright spot in an otherwise neglected transport system.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Publication:CubaNews
Date:Feb 1, 2009
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