I GET AROUND

Ecuador 2013 | TRANSPORT | REVIEW: TRANSPORT

In a three-pronged attack, Ecuador is working hard on land, at sea, and in the air to expand the transport infrastructure that props up both its foreign trade and tourism industry.

Whether it's exporting fruit and oil, or importing tourists, Ecuador is responding to healthy growth of both activities with a compressive transportation improvement program of high quality. The government in Quito is also well aware that future plans to expand the Panama Canal will spell lush trade opportunities, and that in the international spotlight, best practice must be in evidence wherever goods or people are being transported.

The government is keen to extend the range of services and facilities of seaports, too. As a result, existing ports are to be made compatible with larger vessels, while the capacity of storage facilities rises and docks employ state-of-the-art-technology. Meanwhile, land transport remains the staple for domestic inter-city passengers, as the country's extensive road networks connect the main destinations by bus services and a national railway system. In a subterranean development, Quito is poised to distribute its commuters efficiently beneath the city. Collectively, these advancements will stand Ecuador in good stead for the years ahead, and prepare it for economic growth through global connections.

UP IN THE AIR

International visitors to Ecuador, not least those bound for the Galápagos, rely heavily on its airspace, while demand for domestic airtransport continues to make flying a more cost-effective proposition. Ecuador has 104 airports with paved runways, and 328 that offer a more memorable take off and landing experience.

For 60 years, Mariscal Sucre International, at 2,800 meters the world's highest airport, was the key national hub, serving the capital city, Quito. Yet proving unable to keep up with volume and safety considerations, it was replaced in early 2013 by a more environmentally friendly airport with a 4,100 meter runway, one of the longest in South America, at a cost of around $700 million. Safety is at the heart of the new airport. Accordingly, crosswinds are no longer an issue, with planes able to land with the wind on their nose, which is ideal for stability. The airport has 45 aircraft parking positions and an annual passenger capacity of 5 million.

In an interview with TBY, Andrew O'Brien, the President and CEO of airport operator Quiport, underlined the airport's cargo handling strength with the example of one of Ecuador's key decorative exports. “Cargo is also a huge business here… Ecuador is the world's third largest exporter of flowers, for example. We are building a consolidation facility [where]… hundreds of trucks can bring tons of flowers a day, and the flowers can be kept fresh, cool, and safe, before being prepared and placed into boxes ready to be flown out."

Nicolás Romero, General Manager of Guayaquil Airport Authority (AAG), told TBY about the city's new airport, and the benefit of the government handover of airport management to local municipalities. In the wake of this, private sector participation in management has risen through concessions. The existing airport has been operative since mid-2006, during which time around $150 million has been deposited into a trust for future allocation to the construction of a new airport in the Daular area near Guayaquil. With 2,200 hectares earmarked by AAG 30 kilometers from the city, the new airport has the capacity for three simultaneous landing and takeoff strips. It is estimated to check in its first suitcase in around 2024, when the current concession contract expires. Both airports are home to Ecuador's two main national carriers, AeroGal and TAME, which are considering increased frequency of services between Guayaquil and Quito, as well as services to the popular tourist destination, the Galápagos Islands.

A WAVE OF APPROVAL

Ecuador's vibrant maritime industry is served by four major ports and numerous private terminals. Guayaquil, Ecuador's largest port, accounts for an average of 1 million TEUs per year, and is set for expansion. Ecuador, essentially an exporter nation, capitalizes on the Pacific as its window on world markets. Rising imports from mass producers, such as China, increase the urgency for port facility upgrades. Key Ecuadorean sea-bound exports are vehicles, raw materials, and agricultural products. Meanwhile, it ships in industrial goods, fuels, and lubricants, as well as non-durable consumer goods.

GUAYAQUIL

Guayaquil currently accommodates a maximum vessel size of around 500 feet in length. In terms of draft, Guayaquil has a channel of nine-10 meters, and a cargo pier of seven-nine meters, while its oil terminal has a draft of nine-10 meters. The port also offers a limited repair service.

President Correa is keen for the expansion of Guayaquil, Manta, and Esmereldas to enable the movement of over 50 million tons of cargo each, with the port of Puerto Bolívar designated for increased cruise business. His ambitious project to increase Guayaquil's drafts to meters to 15 in order to host post-Panamax ships, the world's largest, has cost around $70 million. Construction is set to commence in late 2013, and is earmarked for completion in early 2015.

MAKING HEADWAY FOR PANAMA

The President's scheme is also a nod to the future widening of the Panama Canal and the expansion of trade with South America and beyond. The Port of Esmereldas in northwestern Ecuador shifts 30 million tons of petroleum per year. It mainly imports steel products, cement, vehicles, and pipes, while exporting wood and palm oil. And at 600 kilometers from the Panama Canal, future expansion, known as the Third Set of Locks Project, promises greater maritime traffic and cargo volume, as current capacity is doubled by 2015.

MANTA AND BOLÍVAR

With larger numbers of tourists walking down the gangplanks, the Port of Manta has invested to allow the simultaneous docking of two liners of 200 meters in length. The port currently hosts around 25 passenger ships per year. It also handles around 3 million tons of cargo annually, and, by 2028, is forecast to have a capacity of 10 billion tons of cargo per year. Puerto Bolívar, meanwhile, is currently one of the world's largest shipping ports for bananas, with cutting edge storage facilities that freshly ship the world's favorite source of potassium.

ON TERRA FIRMA

With a land area of just 277,000 square kilometers, roughly the size of Nevada, traversing Ecuador presents few problems. Of its 43,670 kilometer road network, roughly one-seventh, at 6,472 kilometers, is paved. Meanwhile, for avid road-trippers, highway 35, part of the Pan-American Highway, runs from Alaska in the north and Tierra del Fuego in the south, and connects Ecuador lengthwise to Peru and Colombia. The traveller has a spectrum of choice spanning luxury inter-city coaches, urban buses for local routes, and a curious hybrid system serving remote villages.

DO THE LOCOMOTION

President Correa looks fondly on Ecuador's national rail network, which, at 965 kilometers in length, he considers a part of the country's cultural heritage. Currently, there is no rail connection to neighboring countries, although preliminary agreements have been made with Colombia.

GOING UNDERGROUND

The government, in a bid to upgrade Quito's transport infrastructure to international levels, is committed to launching its metro system in 2016. To partially fund the project's construction, estimated at $1.5 billion, it has secured a World Bank loan of $205 million to be dispensed through the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD). Once operational, the 23 kilometer Metro Line One in Quito is estimated to transport around 400,000 commuters daily, bringing sizable relief to the city's 2.4 million residents. Officials claim that its 15 stations will have an initial capacity of 23,000 people an hour in each direction.

WARNING, BUS ON TRACKS

A quaint way to sightsee the remoter corners of the country is by Autoferras, which are buses converted to run on part of the national rail network. Passengers should expect no dining car or first class option, and the service operates on a rather abstract notion of timetabling.