New Beginnings: The Return of South African Airways

New Beginnings: The Return of South African Airways

After a year-long hiatus, South African Airways (SAA) have announced its return to the skies. Having been grounded after a hard financial run and enduring legal battles, the airline has announced plans to take off once again starting from September 23rd 2021. 

Origins

South African Airways (SAA) was conceived in the winter of 1934

South African Airways was conceived in the winter of 1934, when the South African government acquired Union Airways. As part of the deal the new administration received various aircraft that included a de Havilland DH60 Gypsy Moth, one de Havilland DH80A Puss Moth along with three Junkers F13s and A50s. Furthermore, 40 members of staff were transferred to government payroll continuing their work for the airline.

It continued to make gradual expansions adding more regional destinations and aircraft until after the second world war when SAA began to see significant growth in response to increased travel demands and growing passenger numbers.

Known as the Springbok service, SAA cycled the destinations of Palmietfontein, Nairobi, Khartoum, Cairo, Castel, Benito–Hurn and Bournemouth (The main UK airport before Heathrow). The journey took three days to complete with overnight stops at Nairobi and Cairo. It grew so fast in popularity that SAA went from offering a single Springbok service per week to six. It was at this time that the airline purchased Douglas DC-3 and -4 aircraft that covered domestic routes between Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.

As the years moved on, the airline embraced the jet era with the integration of BOAC de Havilland Comet along with the Douglas DC-7B model that was capable of conducting long-haul flights. With them, SAA scheduled 21-hour flights to London with one refueling stop at Khartoum. This duration was decreased to 18 hours when the stop was transferred to Kano, Nigeria. Meanwhile, the airline also operated its Wallaby route that flew eastward, spanning the destinations of Johannesburg, Mauritius, Cocos Islands, and Perth. By 1960 SAA had acquired its first Boeing 707-320 aircraft that were deployed on the routes to London and Australia, along with adding a flight to New York via Rio De Janeiro.

In the years that followed, albeit political turmoil, South Africa Airways grew to be one of the most active African flyers adding more destinations that included Paris, Hong Kong, Buenos Aires, Tel Aviv and Seychelles. Meanwhile, its fleet grew to include updated Boeing models such as the 737, along with Airbus A300 aircraft.

Financial Troubles 

By the early 2000s, South African Airways had heaved a reputation as a cargo transporter alongside its passenger services. Furthermore, its application to join Star Alliance was met with success and it became the first African member in 2006. Albeit attempts to restrict routes to save costs, less than a decade later the airline began facing financial difficulties that ultimately lead to its recent grounding. 

In 2017, SAA had begun to reduce its fleet and announced to reduce flight operations by 23%. Having been rejected loans by Standard Chartered along with Citibank, the South African government stepped in providing the airline with $147.9 million dollars in an effort to save the situation.

Although it had been placed in bankruptcy protection by the government along with cutting more flights (such as to Munich) to further reduce costs, SAA eventually hit bankruptcy in 2020. This came as a result of the heavy toll inflicted by the covid-19 pandemic, along with the fact that the government stopped funding the airline as it had failed to generate profit since 2011.

In May of 2020, South African authorities provided an official statement announcing the end of SAA’s service with the intention to create a new flag carrier in the near future. 

A Fight to Remain

One of SAA’s Airbus A340-60

The government’s decision was met with heavy opposition by the airline’s employees who saw that albeit financial pressures, the government had chosen to shut down the airline without a convincing rescue plan, leading to a legal battle that ran between May to July. Although told to halt operations by 8th of May 2020, airline personnel continued operating cargo and repatriation flights, whilst taking the matter to South Africa’s Labour Court. 

The end of court proceedings concluded with the airline’s creditors voting to keep the airline alive, requiring the government to provide a figure of $597.8 million. As a result SAA will be privatised with a 51% share of the company being passed to Takatso consortium which allotted around $200 million to revamp the airline and resume operations, considering the figure to be sufficient for 12-36 months of operations. 

Coming out of hibernation, SAA has once again obtained its air operators certificate (AOC) from the South African Department of Civil Aviation. It is set to resume operations with domestic and regional flights covering the destinations of Johannesburg, Cape Town, Accra, Kinshasa, Harare, Lusaka and Maputo.

Speaking with ch-aviation, interim CEO of SAA Thomas Kgokolo said “This is an important development as SAA readies itself to take to the skies again in just a few weeks,” he continued, “at our Airways Park headquarters, in hangars, and at terminals around the country, our staff are hard at work in finishing the final preparatory phases before we make an official announcement about the exact take-off date.”

In terms of aircraft, the airline is set to resume operations with eight Airbus planes; three A319-100s, two A320-200s, two A340-600s and a single A330-300, all of which are leased with the exception of the A340-600 which remain the property of SAA.

Another Chance

Having had an initial run that spanned 86 years, it appears that SAA will not remain grounded as a result of financial turmoil or a pandemic. A feat that is congruent with the airline’s long history that saw challenges met with perseverance. 

While the road to recovery will be long and difficult, especially for the airline to regain its international span and public confidence, this is another chance for SAA to restructure and prove itself once again. 

 

 

 

 

 

Mountain Tops to Island Shores: The Airlines of Ecuador

Mountain Tops to Island Shores: The Airlines of Ecuador

Sitting on the northwestern coast of South America, Ecuador has fostered a powerful airport infrastructure that successfully connects passengers between the mainland to the country’s mountainous and marine regions. But how does Ecuador perform in terms of airlines?

Avianca Ecuador

Avianca Ecuador

One of Ecuador’s most active airlines, Avianca was established as far back as 1919, first known as Sociedad Colombo Alemana de Transporte Aereo. Operations started with a fleet of 25 aircraft and the airline conducted its first flight between Barranquilla and Puerto Berrio.

Operations were confined to within Latin America until the 1940s when the airline saw significant expansion covering routes to the United States and Europe. By 1976 the airline was flying jets and was the first Latin American flyer to integrate a Jumbo 747 in its fleet. 

During the 90s the airline continued to grow adding Airbus aircraft to its fleet along with being launched in the stock exchange. By 2011, Avianca had formed an alliance with TACA along with launching 12 new routes and adding 155 more flights to its schedules. 

Today the airline has grown to cover 60 local and international destinations with a fleet of six Airbus A320-200s. Avianca touches down at such cities as Panama City, New York, Miami, Medellin, Bogota and Santa Cruz de la Sierra. 

Aeroregional

Servicio Aereo Regional Cia Ltda, known as Aeroregional commenced operations in 2018 after securing its AOC from Ecuador’s National Civil Aviation Council. From its hub in Mariscal Lamar International in Cuenca, the airline provides domestic flights to Coca, Quito, Loja along with Baltra in the Galapagos Islands. 

To date, the airline’s fleet consists of three Boeing aircraft namely two 737-500s and a 737-400. 

LATAM Airlines Ecuador

Aerolane Lineas Aereas Nacionales del Ecuador S.A., known commonly as LATAM Airlines Ecuador is a sister company of the LATAM Airlines group that manages various aviation conglomerates in Latin America. From its two hubs in José Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport and Mariscal Sucre International Airport, the airline conducts flights using leased aircraft.

Latam Ecuador was founded in 2002 as LAN Ecuador and commenced operations in April of 2003 and is jointly owned by Translloyd and LAN Airlines. It touches down at several domestic and international destinations that include Guayaquil, Blanket, Baltra, Miami, Santa Rosa and Barcelona. All flights are conducted using the airline’s four A319-100 aircraft.

Avioandes

Avioandes

A leading charter airline in the Ecuador landscape, Avioandes provides several services from regional cargo and passenger services using light aircraft and helicopters. The company also provides security assistance. Its fleet includes a  Dash 8-202 and three helicopters namely Eurocopter AS350B3e, AS350B2, AS350BA. 

In terms of touristic activity, Avioandes also provides private charter services and scenic flights over the Ecuadorian landscape.

 

Ecuatoriana Airlines

Ecuatoriana Airlines

Previously the national flag carrier airline of Equator, Ecuatoriana actively flew between 1957 and 2006, when it ceased operations as a result of serious financial strain even after being privatized and operated by the Brazilian carrier VASP. With the arrival of LAN Chile in the early 2000s, the airline could not compete and was grounded.

Headed by Eduardo Delago; the name was once again registered in the fall of 2020 with Ecuador’s National Civil Aviation Council, with the intention of reviving the airline as a private entity as opposed to national. It comes with the hope to fill the gap left in the market with the folding of the Ecuadorian flag carrier along with TAME, another state-owned airline that also closed its doors in 2020.

“It will be an Ecuadorian flag airline. We are going to make a hybrid between low cost and offer complete services. The difference will be in the service. We will not charge for certain things. All the services that we are going to have onboard will be with people who are entrepreneurs, with dishes from each region or city. Our rates will be low. From what we’ve discussed, certain routes are going to be $50.65. We are not going to increase the cost of the ticket simply because we are going to have a service on board.” explains Eduardo Delago – CEO – Ecuatoriana

Still on the drawing board, the airline is yet to launch operations but has specified its initial fleet. For the time being, Ecuatoriana plans to operate between the cities of Coca, Cuenca, Esmeraldas, Guayaquil, Loja, Macas, Manta, Quito, Santa Rosa and Tulcán. Furthermore, the company has revealed its plans to use Dash 8-400 turboprop along with Boeing 717-200 aircraft. 

Almost There

Overall Ecuador presents a decent airline network through the work of prominent flyers Avianca and Aeroregional along with LATAM Ecuador. The country does however lag in comparison to its leading airport infrastructure. Perhaps the revival of Ecuatoriana will add a boost to Ecuador’s airline economy but, it goes without saying that to attain the same level as its airport resources the government should consider re-establishing a powerful flag carrier airline. 

Success and Tribulation: The Airports of Ecuador

Success and Tribulation: The Airports of Ecuador

Ecuador is located in northwest South America, sharing borders with Colombia to the North, Peru on the East whilst sitting on the Pacific Ocean to the West. The country is also home to the Galapagos Islands which are situated around 1,000km west of the mainland. The country boasts the eighth largest economy in Latin America with its main outputs being oil, bananas, shrimp and gold. 

In terms of its airport resources, Ecuador is well equipped with over 30 airports and airstrips, some practical with others hailed as best on the continent. The country is also home to the world’s first green airport, found on the Galapagos islands. Here is a look at the most notable aviation facilities of the country.

Mariscal Sucre International Airport

Mariscal Sucre International Airport

The main airport serving Ecuador and one of the most popular airports in South America, Mariscal Sucre International Airport was opened in February 2013 to replace its predecessor that shared the same name. It is located in the region of Tababela, around 18km east of the Ecuador capital – Quito, and is named after the independence leader Antonio Jose de Sucre.

The old airport was replaced because it had been constructed in an inconvenient, urban location with strong wind currents that resulted in various accidents, particularly in its later years of operation. Furthermore, given its less than ideal circumstances, the government was unable to expand the airport and facilitate increasing traffic.

Construction of the new Mariscal Sucre International airport began in 2006 and it received its first commercial flight in 2012, when an American Airlines Boeing 757 landed on the 4,100m runway with roughly 100 passengers on board. The airport soon received its first cargo airplane in the fall of the same year. Having undergone all necessary testing and certification procedures successfully, the airport was inaugurated in February 2013 and received all operations of the old airport.

Since it began operations, Mariscal Sucre received various accolades such as being dubbed the Leading South American Airport in the 2014 World Travel Awards along with winning second place in the P3 awards. In addition, the airport received numerous upgrades such as modern runway lights in 2014 and the opening of the terminal’s second phase in 2015.

The site covers 15km2, 10 times larger than the old premises, and was opened with a capacity of five million passengers annually, a figure that is set to increase to seven and a half million by 2030.

Regular flyers that frequent the airport include JetBlue, KLM, LATAM, Delta Airlines, Air France, Air Canada and AeroMexico. 

José Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport

José Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport

The second busiest airport in Ecuador is José Joaquín de Olmedo International, serving the largest city in Ecuador – Guayaquil, capital of the Guayas province. The airport takes its name after José Joaquín de Olmedo, a renowned Ecuadorian poet who acted as the first mayor of Guayaquil whilst previously it was known as Simón Bolívar International Airport.

While the airport is Ecuador’s largest in terms of space, it is the second busiest in terms of passenger traffic after Mariscal Sucre. Terminal Aeroportuario de Guayaquil (TAGSA), established in 2004, is the corporation that has managed the airport over the last 50 years. Its shareholders include Argentina’s Corporación America (51%), Dellair Services (40%), and Ormond Group (9%). Corporación América is the main operator of the airport.

An expansion project for the domestic terminal of José Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport was initiated in 2013. It grew to be the biggest airport in Ecuador when its floor space was increased from 50,000m² to 57,000m². As a result, the passenger capacity increased from 4.5 million passengers to 7 million passengers per year.

The terminal expansion project also saw the addition of three aircraft boarding gates, improved commercial and dining spaces, a new baggage system, upgraded security facilities, along with new restrooms, and seating facilities featuring USB chargers. Also, the airport’s VIP lounge was refined whilst two new VIP lounges were added.

To date passenger traffic at the current airport building is divided into two sections for international and domestic travelers respectively. Plans to upgrade the international side are set for the near future.

The airport has a single 2,790m asphalt runway and regularly sees traffic from the likes of Copa Airlines, American, KLM, Avianca, Turkish Airlines and Air Europa. 

Mariscal Lamar International Airport

Mariscal Lamar International Airport

Serving the high altitude (2,532m above sea level) city of Cuenca, in the Azuay province, this airport features 1,900m asphalt runway and is the main air portal for the mountainous region. Historically the airport was first constructed in 1940 by the American company Panagra, which had been undertaking various construction projects in Latin America. It is named after Mariscal Lamar, a notable Peruvian military commander and politician that was native to the region.

Managed by Cuenca Airport Corporation (CORPAC), the airport gives travelers direct flights to  Quito and thus connections with the rest of the world. 

Since it had been constructed on farmland, with urban development over the years coupled with the challenging terrain, authorities have been faced with the dilemma of expanding the current airport or constructing a new one. 

“Because of the geography, there are few suitable places to build a new facility near Cuenca. You have to deal with elevation, topography as well as weather issues such as fog. Finding an area with a three or four kilometer stretch of flat land is a real challenge in any mountainous location.” says Rafael Emerson, a Latin American airport consultant.

Whilst the mayors of Nabón and Oña recommended the valley between their respective towns as an ideal location for a new Cuenca airport, the problem is that at 72km from the city center, the location is too far and would necessitate a one hour and twenty-minute drive. 

Cristian Zamora, a prominent member of the CORPAC board has expressed his support to construct the new airport at the distant location, “It’s been 40 years since we decided we need a new location, or at least to make a big expansion of the current one,” he expressed, “we can’t put it off any longer.”

Another problem facing the airport is its short runway length at a high altitude; whilst the airport has had a good track record overall, pilots are challenged to land on the short runway at high altitudes. Furthermore, given the circumstances, the airport is only capable of receiving light aircraft with STOL classification. 

Expanding the runway at Mariscal Lamar airport is an option however given the dense urban environment, the project would necessitate the demolition of 100 homes and the closure of several streets to add between 600m-700m of runway length. Given the unideal circumstances, both Zamora and Emerson agree that this would be the most cost-effective solution with the latter adding, “the population of the Cuenca metropolitan area will be over a million within 20 or 25 years and the demand for air travel will grow dramatically. Long-term, there will be a major increase in tourism, not to mention the growth of the foreign resident population. There will also be a demand for regional international flights in and out of the city.”

Unfortunately, regional leaders have been discussing this pressing matter since 1978 with little being done to address the situation but, as the population grows along with touristic demands the government will soon be tasked with choosing between expanding the current airport or constructing the new one even if it’s a long drive away. 

Seymour Airport

Seymour Airport

Known also as Galapagos Ecological Airport, Seymour Airport has been hailed as the world’s first green airport. It is situated on the island of Baltra, part of the Galapagos Archipelago off the coast of Ecuador. 

It opened in December of 2012 and is one of two airports that serve the Galapagos Islands. It is operated by ECOGAL, a sister company of Corporación América. Known to handle approximately 300,000 flyers per year, the airport is frequented by such airlines as Avianca Ecuador, LAN Ecuador, TAME and Aerogal going between Baltra and Quito. It features a single 2,401m runway that is only operational during daytime hours. 

In 2008 the Ecuadorian Government decided to improve the existing airport, which had been used by American forces during the second world war. Corporación América was selected to manage the development of the project, estimated to cost $35 million.

The new airport’s design and construction were created with thorough consideration of minimising damage to the fragile Galapagos ecosystem, following the regulations of the US Green Building Council (USGBC).

The new terminal was built in three phases and integrated recycled steel tubes obtained from oil drilling activities in the Amazon. Seymour Airport’s single terminal spans an area of 6,000m2 and its construction alone cost over $24 million.

The reason that it has been dubbed the world’s first green airport stems from several attributes. For starters, it generated most of its power from renewable sources such as solar and wind. Furthermore during construction around 75% of materials from the old terminal were reused for the new building.

In addition, a bioclimatic design was implemented to minimize the use of air conditioning on the site, saving energy whilst keeping a pleasant temperature throughout the airport. In addition, the airport integrates a sophisticated ventilation plan along with optimized use of natural light to avoid energy expenditure.

Way to Go

From the urban giants such as Mariscal Sucre and José Joaquín de Olmedo International airports to the smaller facilities that serve the Galapagos islands along with the mountainous regions in the country; Ecuador has evolved one of the most impressive airport infrastructures in Latin America. It fares well on its continent alongside its emerging counterparts worldwide, comparable to such countries as Malaysia. It is certainly the case that with powerful airport resources, emerging economies such as Ecuador boost their corporate and touristic capabilities that pave the way for significant economic growth. 

 

Flying to Work: eVTOLs and the Future of Green Urban Transport

Flying to Work: eVTOLs and the Future of Green Urban Transport

A Porsche & Boeing electric aircraft concept

As the world population continues to grow exponentially, cities around the world, particularly in third world countries are growing more polluted on a daily basis. With the rise in urbanisation and increased need for services, urban commuting and cargo transport have never been more in demand.

Looking to facilitate growing transport needs whilst limiting the human carbon footprint, electric power is the direction the world is set to go. Whilst the realm of cars has exploited electric technology, aviation lags behind, but many firms are set to make electric flight a reality in the near future.

eVTOL: Electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing Aircraft

Whilst many firms such as Airbus and Embraer have large electric passenger aircraft on the drawing board for the distant future, the technology may make its way to cities sooner than imagined. 

eVTOL aircraft could revolutionise urban transport due to the fact that as the name implies, it operates in the same manner as helicopters, without the need for runways whilst also providing clean and quiet transport solutions that would be well suited for densely populated urban centers.

For now, Airbus has conceptualized the Vahana and CityBus aircraft, single-seat and four-seat models respectively. Whilst Boeing is joining forces with Porsche to create their own version of urban eVTOL aircraft although in their case it is being dubbed as the world’s first flying car. Uber joined the race in 2016 with Uber Elevate, although the company was eventually sold in 2020 to Joby Aviation. Together with Toyota, they are looking to create an air taxi with a capacity of five passengers able to reach a top speed of 322km/h covering a range of 240km.

Away from Europe, the Chinese firm EHang has been heavily invested in urban flying technology and has successfully tested their two-seater eVTOL aircraft multiple times carrying passengers in urban environments. EHang is also considering implementing its drone transport applications in Japan by 2023.

Overcoming the Challenges

Whilst the concept of flying vehicles in the urban landscape is exciting to say the least, there are a plethora of difficulties to overcome before the technology can be fully implemented in city skies. The first concern is safety, with extensive testing needed to ensure that the vehicles will be fit for passenger use along with enveloping the necessary accident and malfunction scenarios and their procedures. 

At the same time, passengers that will be given the choice to ride air taxis will have to be psychologically prepared for the experience before it can be integrated into society. This will entail PR campaigns along with their gradual introduction to ease their presence for both passengers as well as pedestrians on the ground. Meanwhile, urban planners will be burdened with the task of having to construct the necessary infrastructure to accommodate for the boarding and drop-off points that will be needed for air taxis navigation.

Otherwise, governments must prepare themselves for licensing procedures, although this only applies to manned vehicles. The question stands whether flyers of eVTOLs will be required to hold pilot licenses or whether a new independent certification will be made for them. This will also come with its own list of airspace rules and regulations that must be formulated before these drones can be handed to the public. 

Whilst the above list may give the impression that eVTOL integration will be impossible in cities; it is worth noting that during the course of human development all-new transport technologies, from trains to aviation came with their myriad of problems that were gradually addressed to the point that they have grown to be natural components of the urban scenery known today.

Coming to Africa

Eve Urban Air Mobility (Eve for short)

As Kenya Airways pioneered drone delivery services with Fahari Aviation, a new subsidiary of the airline – Eve Urban Air Mobility (Eve for short) is teaming with Embraer to test air taxi technology in the Kenyan airspace.

Together with Fahari Aviation, the two subsidiaries plan to unite to create an urban air mobility network whilst Fahari’s experience in drone operation will be used to assist Eve in refining its eVTOL aircraft. 

“The creation of disruptive and widely accessible Urban Air Mobility solutions will help democratize mobility by making it more accessible, affordable and giving communities more options,” says Andre Stein, President & CEO of Eve.

Eve has hopes to use air taxis to make direct connections between the Keyan capital and its prominent airport – Jomo Kenyatta International:

“When it comes to the partnership between Fahari and Eve, an air connection between downtown Nairobi and Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO) is high on the list. It’s noted that using these small electric vertical aircraft between the airport and downtown Nairobi will reduce the duration of conventional road trips by up to 90% turning an hour and a half ride into a 6-minute flight” according to an EVE statement.

This move would significantly benefit the country on the business and touristic fronts as arriving passengers are usually met with heavily congested roads during their commute from the airport to the city.

Out of A Movie

While in the past the concept of flying cars was reserved to science fiction and thought impossible, it seems sooner than later this will be the urban dweller’s reality. Meanwhile, aside from giving passengers the joy of flying and lower congestion, eVTOL aircraft will significantly reduce the thick carbon emissions guzzled by cities on a daily basis. 

Caribbean Coasts: A Look at Belizean Aviation

Caribbean Coasts: A Look at Belizean Aviation

Found on the northeastern coast of Central America, Belize sits on the Caribbean Sea sharing borders with Mexico and Guatemala. Whilst its economy is fuelled primarily by agricultural exports, Belize is also growing as a tourist destination. 

On the aviation front, the country counts a myriad of 22 airports that link the mainland with the numerous islands off the coast that are served by two local airlines. All of the country’s airspace is regulated by the Belize Department of Civil Aviation.  

Airports

Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport

Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport

Also known simply as Belize Airport, Philip S.W. Goldson International was built in 1943 and saw the addition of its first terminal building one year later;  located in the town of Ladyville, roughly 15km from the capital of Belize City. It serves as the main air portal and operates all international traffic in and out of the country along with handling several domestic departures. The airport has a single 2,950m asphalt runway that is capable of receiving long-haul aircraft. 

Owned by the government along with the Belize Airport Authority whilst being operated by the Belize Airport Concession Company. It counts two passenger terminals that together have a total area of 10,219m2 along with a single 11,148m2 cargo terminal. In 2020, amidst the pandemic the airport saw traffic of 310,000 passengers, a sharp drop compared to the one million flyers it had received in 2018.

In December 2017, the airport received a $9.9 million expansion project that increased terminal capacity improved whilst improving the airport’s infrastructure. Unfortunately, further expansions set for completion in 2020 were hindered by the coronavirus pandemic and remain on hiatus. 

In terms of destinations, the airport has direct links to several American destinations such as Chicago, Houston, and Los Angeles along with flights to Guatemala and Panama. Airlines that are regularly seen at Philip S.W. Goldson International include United, American, WestJet and Copa along with the two main airlines of Belize – Tropic Air and Maya Island Air. 

Unfortunately, both the airport along with the capital are prone to significant flooding due to their minimal elevation of 5m and coastal proximity.

Sir Barry Bowen Municipal Airport

At only 1.6km from the capital, Sir Barry Bowen Municipal Airport provides predominantly domestic services, connecting travelers to the numerous cayes (islands) off the coast of Belize. It is essential to the transport infrastructure of Belize for allowing easy travel between the mainland to islands without necessitating boats or water taxis. It has a single 940m asphalt runway, meaning that is more suited to accommodating light aircraft. 

The two local airlines of Belize are the sole flyers to this airport, with Maya Island Air having their head office on the premises. Together they provide flights to such destinations as Caye Caulker, Caye Chapel, Placencia, Punta Gorda and San Pedro. 

In 2016 the airport completed an expansion project that cost a total of $8.5 million adding improvements such as new roads, a taxiway along with a modern runway lighting system and a larger car park. Furthermore, the runway was extended to its current length with the addition of a parallel taxiway. 

John Greif II Airport

John Greif II Airport

This airport serves the city of San Pedro along with giving access to Ambergris Caye. It has a single 1,067m runway and is accessed by the two local airlines of Belize. 

It was built by John Greif, the founder of Tropic Air, in the mid-1960s. First operating as a runway strip with his single Cessna airplane, the airport was established to give tourists easier access to the attractive beaches of San Pedro. With its single terminal, the airport operates between 6 AM and 6 PM due to less than ideal lighting capabilities. As a small practical airport, it continues to serve the same function of giving locals & tourists access to the off-shore island today. 

It is worth noting that several airports on the islands of Belize, such as Caye Caulker and Caye Chapel are similar in nature and serve the same purpose as John Greif Airport II. Together they form an aviation network that provides efficient transport in the marine environment. 

Airlines

Tropic Air 

Tropic Air

Established in 1979 by John Greif III, Tropic Air began with a single aircraft and two employees. With its base in San Pedro, over the years Tropic Air has grown to be an important transport provider in Belize; with IATA certification, the airline provides domestic services on the mainland and islands of the country. 

Aside from providing passenger services, the airline is also an active cargo transporter, operating in the same fashion as charter airlines. Tropic Air daily transports items from mail and packages to larger supplies.

It operates a fleet of 15 Cessna 208B Grand Caravan aircraft along with two Cessna T182T’s – each with a capacity of between three to fourteen passengers. The airline is also looking to increase its fleet of Caravans in the near future. 

Destinations covered by the airline in Belize include John Greif II airport, Sir Bowen Municipal and Philip S.W. Goldson International. Tropic also extends its operations to other countries in the region such as Guatemala and Honduras. 

Maya Island Air

Similar to Tropic Air, Maya Island Air also provides domestic passenger services along with charter and cargo services. Started in 1962 as Maya Airways, it was established to replace the coloniser established British Honduras Airways that grew defunct in 1961. Maya Airways fused with Island Air in 1997 to form the modern Maya Island Air.

With its main hub, a Philip S.W. Goldson International, the airline’s main offices are found at Belize City Municipal Airport. The airline provides over 250 daily scheduled flights to nine domestic destinations including the two airports of Belize City, Caye Caulker, Caye Chapel and Placencia among others. Furthermore, the airline offers flights to Guatemala and Honduras along with providing private charter services. 

Its fleet of 13 planes consists predominantly of light aircraft such as eight Cessna 208B Caravan, a Cessna 182S and a Gippsland GA-8 Airvan.

Room to Fly Further

Overall Belize has developed an adequate airport infrastructure to accommodate for locals and tourists alike looking to navigate the country. And whilst its two charter-esque airlines provide decent services on the domestic and regional fronts, there is a void in passenger and cargo services in the aviation marketplace. 

As Belize grows in popularity as a tourist destination, it could benefit immensely with the addition of a flag-carrier airline along with a private sector that operates jets instead of light aircraft. Only then can it see higher traffic and spread its outreach to international destinations beyond Central America and the Caribbean.