DOWN THE RUNWAY

Colombia 2014 | TRANSPORT | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Raúl Donado Osio, General Manager of Ernesto Cortissoz International Airport, on developing an airport in Barranquilla and the benefits it will bring.

According to the Minister of Transport, Cecilia Álvarez-Correa, transport infrastructure investment has doubled between 2010 and 2012. What has been the level of investment in airports since 2013?

We are looking to develop connectivity through different modes of transport. The policy of this government is to improve all of the existing transport options, from air connections to roads. The government's allocation of $1.3 billion from the national budget to make the Magdalena River navigable indicates that investment is going not only to airports, but also to highways, as well as to the construction of railways, seaports, free trade zones, and airports. All of this is being done to achieve comprehensive connectivity across the country, and therefore cater to the commercial program that the government has outlined for the near future.

The National Infrastructure Agency (ANI) has been working on the creation of a new terminal at a cost of $183 million. Can you expand on this endeavor?

Firstly, it analyzed the current status of this airport and looked at which long-term requirements would be needed to meet international standards. It invited government officials, entrepreneurs, and business groups here to make a needs list, and after that was able to identify five specific areas that needed to be developed. It identified passenger, cargo, fixed-base operator (FBO), maintenance repair operator (MRO), and training as the key areas. On top of that, we would then need to learn how to commercialize each and understand that being a hub would not be a business for the city itself; a hub means business for the airport and not for the city because 95% of the people that are moving through are in transit to other destinations. Those people have a connecting flight, which means they spend 30 minutes to an hour in the airport and then head off without spending any money in the city. We can convince companies to come here because of our privileged position as a point of connection between South America and the rest of the world. We are at sea level and have a 3,000-meter concrete runway and, therefore, all of the advantages necessary to establish a hub. However, before we can do this, we must establish sufficient security measures to ensure the safety of travelers.

“There are five modes of transport, namely sea, river, rail, land, and air, and the latter is the most expensive."

What is your vision for Barranquilla's capacity for logistics centers?

There are five modes of transport, namely sea, river, rail, land, and air, and the latter is the most expensive. Passenger flights are generally purchased as round trips, while in cargo there are individual one-way trips that must be organized for each aircraft. Essentially, it boils down to the fact that air is the most expensive way to transit cargo or passengers. It is important to be aware of the subsectors of cargo being transported, too. For example, perishable goods need to be moved efficiently and quickly. In Colombia, the transport of refrigerated fresh flowers, as well as tropical fruit, is a major area of business. In addition, urgent items delivered through companies such as DHL or UPS are also crucial, particularly for items such as newspapers and magazines and other items for next-day delivery. There is also the luxury category, which requires items to be moved with minimal risk of damage during transit. The last category includes any item that is not easily transported by other modes, or that simply take too long to send another way. We use this criterion to find logistical methods and solutions to get cargo out. One such idea is to establish an agricultural showroom at the airport and then to shape policies that will incentivize the goods that farmers cultivate. I believe that Colombia, Barranquilla, and this airport can become the breadbasket for all of the Caribbean islands. That is the way forward, and it is also the reason we need to establish both an agricultural and logistics center here, in order to both produce and, ultimately, deliver.

What is the ambition of this airport following the FTAs and the strengthening of the Pacific Alliance?

The airport is not solely responsible for attracting more airlines or passengers to Barranquilla. My point of view is that the city has to have the attractions and incentives that encourage people to come here. We have to invite people by offering an integral tourism proposal and enacting policies that foster its development. The city has to develop something alternative in terms of the resorts on offer. We have to provide something different through cultural tourism and sports tourism, and with exciting formats. The construction of the new Centro de Eventos del Caribe Puerta de Oro, the new museums, as well as work on the Magdalena River and the deep-sea port are all aimed at boosting tourism and creating incentives; it is not the airport that determines all of these, and we have to ensure that all of this is part of a greater initiative. We should also work with Mexico and try to establish a hub here for cargo and passengers. We have to work in partnership with the north to get this done, something which is essential to the overall success of the initiative. We have to work with the city's mayors, the governor, the Ministry of Agriculture, and other organizations. We have to work together cohesively to achieve this wider goal.

© The Business Year - June 2014