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Colombia navigates growth, challenges, and international expansion in 2024

Avianca Bogota Colombia

Aviation in Colombia has expanded rapidly since the start of the century, and, with over 73.2 million seats in 2024, the market sits second in South America behind Brazil. Colombia has added a significant 17.9 million seats this year when compared to the pre-pandemic 2019.

Although the Colombian aviation market has seen strong growth over the past five years, it has also endured a set of challenges involving its domestic carriers and largest airport.

In 2023, Colombia’s commercial aviation sector marked one of the most eventful years in its history. Colombian ULCC Viva Air, which maintained 16% of the domestic market, suspended operations, followed Ultra Air, another local ULCC, which held a 6% market share.

The collapse of the two large carriers has left a gap in the domestic market which other local airlines have since rushed to fill. Flag carrier Avianca and LATAM Colombia have worked to cover connectivity gaps, however, their business models do not match those of their former ULCC rivals.

In March, JetSmart is set to launch domestic operations in Colombia, introducing seven routes after obtaining an Air Operator Certificate for its new offshoot in the country. The move will see the Indigo Partners-backed ULCC commence flights from Bogota’s El Dorado International Airport.

Avianca dominates in Colombia

Colombia’s national carrier Avianca, one of Latin America’s largest airlines, has significantly expanded since the start of the pandemic when it faced significant challenges.

Avianca filed for bankruptcy in May 2020 citing a need to preserve and reorganise its businesses as it navigated the impact of Covid-19 on global passenger traffic. At the end of 2021, it successfully completed its financial restructuring process and emerged from Chapter 11 as a more efficient and financially stronger airline.

It has since embarked on an ambitious growth strategy aimed at nearly doubling its network, expanding to nearly 200 routes in Latin America and the world. It plans to boast a fleet of more than 130 aircraft by the end of 2025.

In 2024, Avianca holds a commanding 53.8% share of Colombia’s total capacity, representing an increase of 15 points on 2019. Its second-nearest rival, LATAM Colombia, holds a 19.2% share.

Colombian domestic capacity

Colombia has one of the world’s largest domestic markets

In 2024, Colombia is set to be the world’s 12th-largest domestic market. It has over 46.7 million seats for sale. In South America it is second only to Brazil (124.8 million). Despite the collapse the country’s two ULCCs, its domestic capacity will decrease only slightly on last year, considering both airlines suspended operations during Q1 2023.

Currently, a total of six carriers will maintain domestic flights in Colombia this year. In addition to Avianca and LATAM Colombia, they include Clic Air, the Copa Airlines-backed Wingo, state-owned SATENA, and new entrant JetSmart.

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Top Colombia international markets

Colombia set for international capacity record

Nonstop international capacity to and from Colombia is set to reach record levels this year, standing at 26.5 million seats. In 2023 alone, Colombia saw the launch of 22 new international routes, following on from the 34 that started in 2022.

The US is Colombia’s largest international market, accounting for around 25% of all international seats, while Panama is second with almost 15% due to Copa Airlines’ hub that connects the Americas. Spain accounts for 9% of capacity in third position.

Colombia's biggest airlines

About 80% of Colombia’s total traffic comes from 13 markets, which are mainly in the Americas, but also include European countries like Spain, Germany, France, and the UK. Colombia is concentrating its efforts on increasing connectivity from those markets but is also seeing new opportunities from destinations in the Middle East and unserved points in Europe. Emirates is the latest carrier to announce plans to launch operations to Bogota, with flights from Dubai to operate via Miami.

Bogota Airport eyes 100 million passengers by 2027

Bogota’s El Dorado International Airport has been following market trends in the country, significantly increasing its passenger numbers since the pandemic. It is Latin America’s second busiest airport after Mexico City International. In 2023 it welcomed around 39 million travellers, up from 35.1 million in 2019, and a notable recovery from the low of 10.8 million during the pandemic-stricken 2020.

As Colombia’s tourism, growing middle class and demand for air travel continue to grow, El Dorado Airport is expected to accommodate up to 100 million passengers per year by 2037.

However, growing operations are also leading to challenges. In 2023, Colombian regulators increased hourly operations at the airport to historical levels. However, after the increase occurred, there were flight delays and cancellations at the infrastructure-constrained airport.

This year, LATAM Colombia plans to launch flights from Bogota to Madrid in July. Avianca will; introduce services to Montreal, Brazil’s GOL commences operations from Buenos Aires and Sao Polo, while Emirates arrives from Dubai via Miami, holding fifth-freedom rights on the Miami – Bogota sector.

Boosting flight capacity is crucial for Bogota in 2024 and beyond to uphold Colombia’s position as one of the leading aviation markets in Latin America and to further enhance its competitive standing in South America.

Bogota Colombia