Latin America & the Caribbean’s Recovering Air Traffic

The air transport industry is a major economic driver in Latin America and the Caribbean. The Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) notes in its latest report that the industry supports 7.6 million jobs and accounts for 3.5% – or approximately $187 billion – of all gross domestic product (GDP) in the region. In 2019, the World Bank reports that passenger traffic in LAC reached 305.1 million, while air freight transported an estimated 6.3 million metric tons – some of the highest volume of both passengers and cargo in the world.
The air transport industry has lost millions of passengers since 2020 due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, recovery has started. In fact, the region’s airports have experienced a slow but steady recuperation since June 2021, reaching 45% of the total number of passengers carried in November 2019. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) projects that the region should reach total recovery by 2023, with air traffic realizing 2019 levels again.

The Infrastructure Gap

Aviation has enormous potential for growth in LAC, in regard to both interregional connectivity and connections with the rest of the world. A study by the Inter-Development Bank (IDB) published in December 2021 concluded that the region should invest in infrastructure by 2030 if the region is to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While these are not binding commitments, SDGs are an internationally recognized reference: goals that all countries are meant to achieve by 2030. The report states that LAC needs to invest at least 3% of its GDP in infrastructure each year until 2030, requiring around $146 billion investment in the air transport industry to develop new infrastructure and maintain existing airport infrastructure.

Enhancing Airport Service Quality

Passengers at LAC airports are likely to be just passive promoters of airports in the region, an analysis by the Research in Transportation Business and Management found. While these passengers are generally satisfied, many of them are less willing to recommend these airports and are more inclined to explore more competitive offerings. This is a result of remarkable failures in services such as queueing times, cleanliness, food and beverage and airport staff, among others. As air travel continues to grow, and as passengers expect and desire favorable experiences, the air transport industry requires companies like NewCo to improve these infrastructures with customer-centric experiences as top priority. Sourcing financing in an ever increasing competitive landscape is also paramount.

Demand for PPPs in LAC

PPPs play a major role in closing infrastructure gaps and improving the quality of airport services. Airport businesses are traditionally operated by governments and requires intensive capital. With the pandemic bringing new challenges and straining already scarce resources, the collaboration between public and private sectors has never been more important. Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) have been an essential tool in airport development in LAC, and several projects are already operating under this scheme. NewCo’s opportunity remains massive, nonetheless, with airport projects currently in need of private investments. At present, there are 18 major planned and ongoing small- to medium-sized airport projects in LAC, or those with a value of under $400 million. By addressing this market through PPPs, the quality, efficiency, and competitiveness of airports in LAC can and will be increased.