Spirit Airlines Postpones Return of Flights to Nicaragua

The only airline that planned to fly to and from Nicaragua in August backs out. Canatur asks the Ortega government to use good sense.

By Ivan Olivares (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – The extraordinary requirements demanded by the Nicaraguan government to allow the return of commercial aviation to the country had predictable results. Spirit Airlines, the low-cost airline that planned to return on August 17th, delayed its flights, once again. The decision brought new concerns from the tourism industry, which released a statement noting the “uncertainty” that decision places them in.

Spirit’s decision means five months without receiving regular passenger flights at the Managua international airport. With commercial air connectivity at zero, the open airport facilities are a sort of white elephant, at least until the planes begin to arrive.

“There is no confirmed date” for the return of Spirit Airlines, said Lucy Valenti, president of the National Chamber of Tourism (Canatur). “We are concerned that other airlines that tentatively planned to start flying again in September will do the same,” she added.

Month after month, the airlines have been postponing their return to Nicaragua. At the beginning, the reasons were related to the disproportionate growth of Covid-19 infections. In recent months, the reasons had to do with what the tourism industry calls “Requirements impossible to meet” by the airlines.

This led Aeroméxico to delay its return to September 1; Avianca and United last said they plan to land in Managua on September 2. COPA scheduled a flight for September 5, while American Airlines delayed its return until October 7.

Neither Spirit nor the other airlines have officially confirmed the reasons why they postponed their date of return to Nicaragua. However, tourism executives have no doubt that it is due to the requirements of the Nicaraguan Civil Aeronautics Institute. While some of those requirements were recently reduced, they are still far from being feasible for the airlines.

Canatur asks the government to reconsider

“The differences that persist and prevent the return of flights are caused by regulations the Nicaraguan government imposed on the airlines. These cannot be complied with due to operational complications. As long as this situation continues, a confirmed date for the start of scheduled air operations cannot be established,” said Canatur.

The statement recalls that “the measures imposed establish that flight crews have the obligation to carry out covid-19 tests at least 72 hours before their arrival in the country. This is impossible to comply with since the crews are continuously traveling and in transit. One day they are in one country and the next in another, so airlines have their own protocols for their crews.”

They also note that the government requires airlines to send negative Covid-19 tests from their passengers at least 24 hours before the flight arrives in the country. This must be accompanied by a copy of the passengers’ travel documents. Canatur says this cannot be complied with “since the airlines don’t have access to that information until the moment of check-in.”

Canatur further notes that “no country in the Central American region, or others that have already opened air operations, have these requirements.”

“It would mean starting to reactivate a key industry not only because of the economic contribution it makes to the Government’s balance of payments. But also because of the jobs it produces for many thousands of Nicaraguan families who otherwise have no way to support their homes after several months of pandemic,” said the Chamber.

Nicaragua is the only country in the region that imposes regulations of difficult compliance on the airlines. Canatur “calls on the authorities to reflect on this situation… and make their position more flexible.” They encourage “regulations in accord with those implemented in the rest of Central America.”

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