Sangster International expects more airport traffic in 2017
MBJ Airports Limited, operators of Sangster International Airport, expects passenger traffic to surpass four million this year, a forecast that takes more robust Cuba travel into account, at least for the moment.
In 2016, just over 3.9 million passengers in 2016 transited through Sangster, or about 4.0 per cent higher year on year.
New routes, frequent flyers, greater demand and load factors contributed to the rise, according to the company in response to Gleaner Business queries.
For 2017, the improved political and economic ties between the United States and Cuba are "not expected" to have a significant impact on traffic at Sangster, though Cuba continues to receive an increasing number of visitors from the US via direct, regularly scheduled commercial flights.
"Nonetheless, Sangster will continue to be an important gateway into Cuba for multi-destination tourists, with several carriers, including Cayman Airways, Aerogaviota, interCaribbean Airways and Copa Airlines, offering direct or connecting service to the island," said MBJ.
US travel to Cuba for tourist activities remains prohibited by statute, according to facts on the US Embassy in Cuba's website, but as noted by MBJ, the US Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control has issued general licences for 12 categories of travel, which include family visits, research, sport activities and the sort, but not business.
Traffic growth in 2016 met management's expectations, which was based on economic conditions in key markets, available hotel room inventory and market prices.
"MBJ management anticipates traffic through Sangster International Airport will continue to grow in 2017 and will exceed four million passengers for the year," said MBJ.
Most passengers originated from the US at 69 per cent of total throughput at Sangster in 2016. Flights arriving from and departing to the US carried 6.8 per cent more passengers in 2016 than the previous year.
Canada continued to be the second most important source market for Sangster in 2016, representing 17 per cent of overall traffic. Passenger traffic, however, was down 4.4 per cent relative to 2015. The weak economy related to dips in oil price dips and the Canadian dollar are blamed for the decline in passengers out of Canada, especially those originating in Western Canada.
The European Union accounted 12.47 per cent of total traffic, while the market grew 19 per cent.
MBJ said it would continue to investment while building strong relationships with airlines. Part of that plan includes a US$60-million upgrade of the runway. The Airport Improvement Fund, which charges fees to passengers, will finance the runway development.
MBJ Airports CEO Rafael Echevarne said a number of projects are in the works.
"In terms of aeronautical infrastructure, we are addressing some major ramp and taxiway works, which will ensure the long-term integrity and quality of these key facilities. We will also start work on a runway extension project," he said.
"We have engaged the world's leading airport commercial advisory firm to help us plan retail development. New architectural style and design standards will be introduced, alongside new retail concepts with a strong Jamaican theme."
MBJ will also be renovating the ticketing area to give it "a more stylish and modern look and feel", Echevarne said.