By Mabel Calero (La Prensa)
HAVANA TIMES – The Managua Airport suffered the loss of an airline this month, leaving it operating with one international flight company. The Venezuelan airlines Conviasa, popular for Cuban merchants, no longer flies to Managua.
The situation threatens to extend until February, after American Airlines decided not to return in January. It may return in February. Meanwhile, Aeromexico is currently expected to return in March.
Travel agencies announced that Copa Airlines will resume operations on January 20. However, it is not about normal commercial flights as before the Covid-19 hit Nicaragua in March of last year. Copa will fly charter flights, a service already offered by other airlines, which refuse to return with commercial flights to the country. This, due to the unfeasible biosecurity protocol that the Government imposed on them.
Charter flights contrast with regular flights, which are usually cheaper. he companies have established weekly frequency and schedules. Furthermore, the dates are more limited. For example, in January Copa is expected to operate two flights connecting to Panama, but on specific days. In February, the agencies only offer four flights with set dates. In other words, they are limited air services.
Lucy Valenti, President of the National Chamber of Tourism of Nicaragua (CANATUR), explained that the flights that Copa is offering are regular, but under the charter modality.
“They are going to operate with their regular flight license, but they respond to charter flight requirements. In January they have two flights and in February one flight, and by March there is no certainty whether they will continue with that same modality or not,” said Valenti.
Leonardo Torres, President of the Chamber of Micro, Small and Medium Tourism Enterprises (Cantur) said that the travel agencies maintain that Copa will return on January 20. They called Panama, which is COPA’s headquarters, to check the information and there they were told that they still do not have a return date to Nicaragua.
“With those flights there was a confusion, because they announced that the company is going to start operating, but it is not. They are charter flights and to check the information on Saturday we called Panama and Copa did not confirm its restart of operations on January 20. They told us that they were only taking special flights that are the ones that travel agencies buy and that you can confirm if you try to buy a ticket. The system does not allow it,” said Torres.
To that situation with Copa is now added that American Airlines decided not to return in January. According to the travel agencies “Viajes Premier” and “Aeromundo”, the US airline delayed its date again. It won’t be coming on January 21 but until February 11, a situation that worries the tourism sector, because flight companies have been delaying their return for almost 10 months.
For now, besides the charter flights that Copa will offer, in January only Avianca is offering regular international flights. United Airlines is expected to return February 11th, as well as American Airlines. Aeromexico says they will come in March 4th. The low-cost airline, Spirit, has not yet defined a date.
Conviasa suspends flights to Managua
The situation seems to be more complex for the Venezuelan Conviasa, whose return was announced almost a month ago with great fanfare by the Ortega regime. Then, on January 1, the company announced in a statement the suspension of its operations until further notice.
“In response to the outbreak of Covid-19, especially imported cases and following instructions from the Cuban Aeronautical Authority, Conviasa suspended operations on the La Habana-Managua-Caracas route, starting January 1, 2021,” reads the statement.
The company points out that it will only run humanitarian flights through special permits, “in order to achieve the repatriation of passengers outside of their country of residence. Once that ends, flights will be rescheduled for those unable to travel, once operations are resumed in the route.”
Conviasa’s suspension of its Managua-La Habana route occurred days after Cuba announced in late December that as of January 1 it was going to reduce the frequencies of flights from several countries. Passengers who entered the island brought an increase in positive cases of Covid-19, said the government.
Although on that occasion Nicaragua was not mentioned, but only countries such as the United States, Mexico, Panama, Bahamas, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Conviasa closed its Managua-La Habana route, no longer within its international destinations. However, it still flies Caracas-Panama and Caracas-Havana.
Valenti said that she was unaware of the information about Conviasa. She noted that tourism will not be affected, since Cubans only come to buy at popular markets and restrict their spending on recreation, lodging and restaurants.
“In some way it affects because it was an additional option, and the most affected is commerce. Those groups of Cubans won’t be arriving, who come specifically to buy in the markets,” said Valenti.
According to statistics from the Nicaraguan Tourism Institute (INTUR), a total of 44,829 Cubans visited Nicaragua in 2019, a high figure if one takes into account that in the previous two years the number of islanders who landed in Managua did not exceed 2,000.
According to the magazine “ADN Cuba,” on the island the multitudes of Cubans who travel for commercial purposes are usually known as mules. They carry out commercial tourism to and from countries that provide them with migratory facilities. The second consideration is having few commercial restrictions and, thirdly, having a wide range of low-cost products.