Ecuador’s new US$700 million Quito International Airport opened last week, replacing the city’s 52-year-old Quito Mariscal Sucre airport. The new airport is located 24 kilometers east of Quito.
This will come as a relief to Ecuador regulars and locals alike. The old city center airport had a reputation for its uneasy landing. It frequently appeared in “Top 10 scariest landings” polls and articles.
When the airport was first opened in 1960, it was surrounded by fields. However, just about 350,000 lived in Quito then. The population grew to about 2.2 million and the city grew around the urban airport. The strip is surrounded by residential areas that had to listen to the roar of engines 24 hours a day.
The city location combined with the high attitude, mountains, and short runway made the margin for human error tiny and tragically, there had been miscalculations, resulting in nine fatal accidents in the past 30 years. Also all of these had been caused by runway issues.
For example, in 1984, an aircraft clipped some navigation towers whilst taking off and dived onto neighboring homes. 49 people were killed.
The racket of the planes sometimes woke us at dawn,” explained one local. “The windows of the house would rattle and it seemed they would shatter.” “I often thought a plane would fall onto my house and kill all my family,” she added. “The airport has been a bad neighbor, a very dangerous neighbor.”
Luckily, this is in the past and the plan is to turn the airport into a park area with new businesses and high-rises surrounding it. Therefore, those people in the house with the shaking windows will likely see an increase in their property value over the next few years.
Ecuadorians are making up for the previous lack of space, the new airport is ten times the size and has a 13,451ft (4,100m) runway, the longest in South America. As well as the increased safety, this will allow for more direct flights from long-haul destinations, such as Spain. The larger size was needed for more than the landing, international arrivals were always chaotic from customs to the taxi out of the airport.
However, the one potentially big effect the new airport in Quito may have is reducing local commerce. With the current airport, businessmen could hop a flight in the morning to Cuenca or Guayaquil, have a business meeting (the airports in those cities are minutes from downtown) and return home in time for dinner (or even lunch if he had to). With the long drive time to the new airport (locals estimated current drive time as high as 2 hours until the new road to the airport is completed) which won’t ever get below an hour even with the new road, those convenience business hops won’t work anymore.
Of course, this new-found safety has another small drawback. While the old Mariscal Sucre airport could be reached from downtown in around 20 minutes it will take over an hour to get to the new airport, and no airport train has been planned. However, it’s a small price to pay to avoid these albeit “speculator” but “white knuckle” landings. This is certainty a benefit for anyone considering retirement in Ecuador.