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Colombia: South America’s newest aviation powerhouse

Avianca Airlines at Bogota

The aviation sector in Colombia has experienced rapid expansion since the beginning of the century, boasting over 73.7 million seats in 2024, making it the second-largest market in South America after Brazil. This year alone, Colombia has seen a notable increase of 18.4 million seats compared to pre-pandemic levels in 2019.

While the Colombian aviation market has experienced robust growth in the last five years, it has also faced a series of challenges concerning its domestic carriers and the country’s largest airport in Bogota.

In 2023, Colombia’s commercial aviation sector witnessed one of its most eventful years to date. ULCC Viva Air, holding 16% of the domestic market, suspended operations, followed by Ultra Air, another local ULCC, with a 6% market share.

The collapse of these two major carriers created a void in the domestic market, prompting other local airlines to swiftly step in. Flag carrier Avianca and LATAM Colombia have attempted to bridge connectivity gaps; however, their business models differ from those of their former ULCC competitors.

In March, JetSmart launched domestic operations in Colombia after obtaining an Air Operator Certificate for its new offshoot in the country, initially introducing eight routes between the cities of Bogota, Cali, Cartagena, Medellin, Pereira, and Santa Marta. The Indigo Partners-backed ULCC has also secured permission to operate 27 domestic routes in the mid-term. In addition to the initial six cities, the airline also plans flights to Barranquilla, Bucaramanga, Cucuta, Monteria, Pasto, and San Andres.

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 notable 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.

Colombias biggest airlines 2024

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 46.9 million seats for sale. In South America it is second only to Brazil (123.7 million). Despite the collapse the country’s two ULCCs, its domestic capacity will grow 12% on last year, thanks in part to the entry of JetSmart and the response by other local carriers to fill in the gaps.

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.

Prague International Airport

Colombiann domestic capacity 2024

 

Colombia set for international capacity record

Nonstop international capacity to and from Colombia is set to reach record levels this year, standing at 26.7 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.

op Colombia international marketes 2024

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 launch operations to Bogota, with flights from Dubai operating 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 increase, 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 introduce flights from Bogota to Madrid in July. Avianca will introduce services to Paris, complementing the recently launched Montreal, Brazil’s GOL commenced operations from Buenos Aires and Sao Polo, while Emirates arrived from Dubai via Miami in June, 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.

Geneva Airport Spring 2024