By Juan Carlos Salazar, Director General of Civil Aviation de Colombia.

 

The impact of the fall in demand generated by COVID-19, added to the air restrictions and quarantines with mobility restriction in Colombia observed as of March 2020, evidenced a sharp drop in the operational figures of passenger movement and cargo. The above, dramatically changed the growth trend that was seen in previous decades; The historical evolution of traffic and the sustained growth trend of the last several years, which in 2019 made it possible to move more than 41.2 million passengers through the different airports in Colombia, with a growth above 9%.

 

Passenger Movement

 

When making an analysis of the monthly passenger movement , it is observed that the passenger air transport market mobilized a little more than 17 million passengers during the period from December 2019 to December 2020, compared to 44.7 million passengers mobilized during same period from November 2018 to November 2019. That represented a decrease of – 61.9% equivalent to 27.7 million passengers.

 

These figures reflect the impact of the international health emergency generated by COVID-19, which forced the Suspension of disembarkation for purposes of entry or connection in the Colombian territory, of passengers from abroad, by air as of March 23, 2020 , (Decree 439 of March 20, 2020). Such a restriction was after lifted by Resolution No. 1769 of September 15, 2020.

 

Between September 1 and December 31, 2020, during more than 100 days of reactivation of air transport, 4,249,918 passengers were mobilized domestically (3,349,058) and internationally (900,860). Those figures represent  43,709 air operations, in more than 106 national and 52 international routes, with strict application of the Biosafety Protocol designed and implemented by the Civil Aviation and Health authorities. That allowed thousands of citizens to move by air safely and regain trust in aviation as the great facilitator for connectivity that it is and thus boosting the economy.

 

The consolidation of international routes such as Bogota – Miami – Bogota, which has mobilized more than 38,293 passengers, is the highlight. Then there is the Bogota – Panama – Bogota, which has mobilized more than 31,699 passengers and the Rionegro – Miami – Rionegro routed, with more than 28,715 since the reactivation. In the same way, it needs to be highlighted that connectivity has been recovered on regular routes with more than 31 destinations in 19 countries.

 

Despite the difficult scenario that the health emergency resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic has meant for Colombian civil aviation, important goals have been achieved that have been made thanks to the coordinated work of public and private actors. Among them, for Aeronautica Civil is of special importance those that represent also progress in each of the objectives of the Institutional Strategic Plan 2018-2022, that has continued to act as a road map despite the emergency, during the period November 2019-November 2020.

 

Organizational Achievements

 

At the institutional level, a study was concluded that seeks the consolidation and strengthening of governance, autonomy and efficiency, with a view to develop and effectively implement different roles. This Transformation Plan for Institutional Strengthening is specified by having:

 

– An independent Accident and Incident Investigation Directorate

– A Secretariat of the aeronautical authority

– A Secretariat of Air Navigation Services

– A Secretariat of Airport Services

– A Secretariat for a Center for Aeronautical Studies

 

Regarding accident investigation, Aerocivil has the challenge of having an air accident investigation center through the construction of adequate infrastructure and an efficient, responsible work team, accompanied by experts. This will only strengthen the investigation capacity of accidents and incidents that may occur in the country.

 

In this order of ideas, the following achievements are to be underscored:

 

– The structuring of a project for the construction of the headquarters for the Air Accident Investigation Center – CIAA

– The strengthening and consolidation to re-formulate investment projects of the organization, giving an integral perspective to investments in aeronautical and airport infrastructure.

 

– The Colombian Civil Aviation Authority (Aerocivil) signed two Cooperation Agreements (MoUs), with the civil aviation authorities of Aruba, Bolivia and Chile, with the aim of promoting, developing and strengthening Technical, Scientific and Administrative Assistance, training, support and exchange of knowledge on the basis of mutual and reciprocal benefit. They cover matters of operational safety, promote technical cooperation in the field of civil aviation to contribute to the improvement of aeronautical services, levels of operational safety and raising quality standards in the investigation of air accidents.

– Aerocivil ranked first in the evaluation of the Institutional Performance Index (IDI-FURAG), in the transport sector with a score of 88.9 for the term of 2019 compared to 70.4 for 2018, helping to achieve the goal of the Transportation Sector for the four-year period. This also implied ranking 25th out of 147 national public agencies in the country.

 

Between September and December 2020, we were able to participate in meetings in which 6 study notes were presented that relate to the unique security control issues in times of COVID -19. Other relevant topics covered were reactivation of International Air Transport Services and Recovery of markets, connectivity and competitiveness, as axes of the strategic plans to face COVID-19, among others.

 

National and International Connectivity

 

In the field of national and international connectivity, requests from different airlines are continuously received, studied and authorized to operate new routes within and/or outside Colombia. In 2020, Aerocivil has authorized 8 new passenger air routes both nationally and internationally. In addition, it also received and is currently working on requests for 29 national routes and 15 international routes that will undoubtedly strengthen the competitiveness of the Colombian economy.

 

As for international commercial air matters, in excess of the 14 new bilateral instruments and the 5 modernized agreements as of December 2019, in the XI Version of the ICAO-ICAN Air Negotiations Conference (March 2020) we modernized the Memorandum of Understanding with Curaçao. This all translated in being able, during the pandemic, to maintain connectivity even in the most critical moments and we have already made substantial progress in reactivating international and national connections even further.

 

Thanks to the implementation of the essential connectivity plan for the re-launch of air transport, on July 21, 2020, the progressive operation of air transport for domestic flights was restarted, starting with pilot routes (Phase I), at the airports of Cúcuta and Bucaramanga, to which the airports of Rionegro and Pereira were subsequently added. As of September 1, 2020, the domestic operation was reactivated in 14 airports in the country, being available to operate 38 roundtrip routes. Furthermore and as of September 21, 2020 we expanded the network to 31 more airports (Phase II), with 14 new routes . Additionally, in development of the Connectivity Plan for international flights, on that very same date, operations were reactivated at the airports of Bogotá, Rionegro, Cartagena and Cali.

 

On November 1, 2020, phase III of Intermediate Reactivation was enacted for domestic flights and phase II of Intermediate Reactivation for International flights, thus complying with the provisions of the Essential Connectivity Plan for the recovery of air transport. As of today, we have managed to open of national and international flights in practically all airports.

 

Despite the operational challenges derived from the pandemic and in order to provide the country with modern infrastructure that can cover the growth in demand, the different air terminals in the country are currently being intervened, with projects underway and recently awarded. That represents an investment of approximately $ 832 billion pesos, with works being carried out at different Airports such as Leticia, Armenia, Pasto, San Andrés and Providencia, Popayán, among others. Also at Rionegro, Ipiales and Buenaventura airports, while other investments in studies and designs are undergoing.

 

Aerocivil has guaranteed air transport at 68 airports in the country, air traffic control and the Fire Fighting Service (SEI), allowing cargo operations, the availability of supplies associated with the health emergency and the transfer of travelers on humanitarian flights. This has all happened while maintaining the necessary levels of operational, civil aviation and biosafety security, in the face of the threats that the drastic reduction of the activity could cause.

 

In the same way, a series of measures were adopted to mitigate the economic effects generated by the COVID-19 pandemic in the aeronautical sector, through decrees, resolutions and other administrative means. Added to the above was the implementation of biosecurity protocols for the operation of airports in the process of reopening of domestic and international routed. For the whole of that, all related agencies were encouraged to generate actions and processes aimed at mitigating the risk of contagion of the COVID-virus. 19.

 

Likewise, in 2020 resources of about $ 5,000 million were allocated to provide aeronautical technical assistance to the territorial bodies that own and/or manage public airports for the strengthening of infrastructure related to air transportion, such as in the Municipalities of Necoclí, Bahía Solano, Sogamoso, Miraflores, Barbosa and Inírida. Also, the formulation of the Airport Terminal as a Model Project was advanced, with the methodology of the National Planning Department. This will allow the territorial bodies to access this parameter when they require the construction or improvement of their airport terminals.

 

On the other hand, progress has been made in strengthening the SINEA National Airspace System, seeking to increase efficiency of its current capacity, improving the performance of CNS systems and automation of services provided to Air Navigation.

 

Environmental Sustainability: A Central Concern

 

As we know, the dynamic growth of air transport is directly associated with an increase in the environmental and social impact of aviation, which puts the sustainability of the system at risk and poses challenges in Colombia’s commitments to combat global warming. Support by measures market-based compensation (MBM), operational technology improvements and the use of alternative energy to mitigate this impact are underway. Hence the importance of every decision made in civil aviation leading to a sustainable future.

 

Commercial aviation is responsible for 2% of greenhouse gases generated by human activities that are released into the atmosphere and 3% including other polluting gases. The number of passenger aircraft in 2034 is expected to double that of 2014, reaching 35,749 units of which more than 31,000 have yet to be built.

 

The attention given to the Covid-19 pandemic has not delayed our concern or commitment to make Colombian aviation more respectful of the environment and sustainable. For this reason and as part of the implementation of the Environmental Strategic Plan, Aerocivil was able to identify mobile and fixed sources of CO2 emissions, as part of the carbon certification process granted by the ACI. This action allows the identification of CO2 emissions on the ground, starting at the airports of Armenia and Leticia.

 

Transition from RAC 11 to RAC 216 was also achieved and the following chapters are being updated: Noise measurement protocol, Air measurement protocol and Green activities at airports.

 

In conjunction with the Ministry of Transportation, the implementation of PBN procedures was integrated as a measure for CO2 mitigation (optimization of air routes) for the NDC strategy – Nationally determined contributions. In addition, work was done on structuring the CO2 emissions action plan. Such a document is being evaluated for filing with ICAO.

 

Regarding biofuels, technical tables were developed and actors such as Ecopetrol and the Ministry of the Environment were linked to commence research on their use.

 

Finally, today we are already reviewing the update of the environmental policy as a strategic environmental guideline and we are working on the preparation of the Environmental Impact Study for the modification of the Airport Environmental License.

 

Edited by Jeff Peet