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Jardines del Rey: international gateway to Cayo Coco.

Designed and built to serve one of Cuba's fastest-growing tourism destinations, Jardines del Rey International Airport at Cayo Coco, is a small, brand-new terminal that has rapidly climbed to the top of the list of Cuban airports.

Jardines del Rey (whose airport code is CCC) is the only airport in Cuba managed by a foreign entity. Administration is shared by state-run ECASA (Empresa Cubana de Aeropuertos y Servicios Aeronauticos SA) and Spain's AENA (Aeropuertos Espanoles y Navegacion Aerea), a state-run company that manages all airports in Spain and many others overseas, and is also responsible for air traffic control.

In the six years since its inauguration in December 2002, Jardines del Rey has become one of Cuba's busiest airports, moving well in excess of 200,000 travelers a year since 2004. It handles more than 30 arrivals and departures weekly in the high season (December through April), and about a dozen per week in the summer.


CCC has the capacity to process 600 passengers per hour at its peak, which is well above current traffic levels.

The airport boasts a 9,842-foot-long asphalt airstrip able to accommodate large transcontinental passenger jets. It has three remote standing positions for large jets. The airstrip, the apron and taxi areas are currently being expanded in preparation for more active movement in the future.

Air traffic control benefits from modern aerial navigation equipment, including new radars, lighting approach and maneuvering systems, beacons and an instrumental landing system. It can operate 24 hours a day.

CCC regularly serves 11 airlines including the domestic Cubana de Aviacion, Arerocaribbean and Aerogaviota, with links to Havana, Varadero and Santiago de Cuba (Cubana has links to Canada and Europe).

It also hosts Canada's Air Transat, Air Canada, CanJet, Skyservice and Sunwing, providing links to Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Halifax and Vancouver.

Two British airlines, Thomas Cook Airlines and Thompson Airways, connect Cayo Coco with London-Gatwick, Glasgow (starting June 30) and Manchester. Italy's Blue Panorama provides a weekly link to Milan.

Nearly all traffic at Cayo Coco is international. Since this tourist spot is well beyond the reach of the vast majority of Cubans, domestic traffic is irrelevant. It seems to be limited to excursions within the island for international vacationers and a handful of service or executive flights.

The terminal building has 64,600 square feet of air-conditioned space and features the essential amenities of a small modern airport, such as a restaurant-cafeteria, snack bar, two VIP lounges, duty-free shops, car rental, 24hour banking, currency exchange and travel agency offices.

This airport was built to replace Maximo Gomez International Airport at Ciego de Avila, 45 miles to the south. Its opening gave the hotels at Cayo Coco a big boost, since tourists no longer had to spend an hour traveling by bus to get there.

Developed in the early 1990s on the pristine beaches and coral reefs of the virgin cays offshore central Cuba, the all-inclusive resorts of Cayo Coco and neighboring Cayo Guillermo currently boast 4,147 rooms in 13 four- and five-star hotels.

No Cuban citizens currently live on Cayo Coco or Cayo Guillermo, nor in a 30-mile radius, others than temporary service personnel.

The key itself is a low rocky and marshy flat island rising barely 13 feet above sea level and covered with a thick coastal forest. The western part of Cayo Coco is a wildlife sanctuary, El Bago Park.

The warm crystal-clear waters surrounding the key face the Old Bahamas Channel, which is one of the busiest routes in the world for cruises and yachting in the path from the U.S. southeast coast to the Caribbean.

This is the third in a new series of occasional articles on major Cuban airports. The first, published in March, looked at the general state of Cuba's air transportation system. The second featured Santiago de Cuba International.

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Date:Apr 1, 2009
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