Caribbean insight: Santo Domingo’s coronavirus recovery

2019 was a great year for many companies within the aviation sector, not least Santo Domingo’s Las Americas International Airport. In fact, the 2019 net profit of commercial airlines is projected to reach around US$28 billion. Meanwhile, in 2018, commercial airlines achieved net profits of US$27.3 billion. That growth was expected to continue in 2020, however, as a consequence of the sudden drop in travel demand, that is no longer the case. From an estimated US$29.3 billion in net profit, airlines are now expecting significantly lower numbers.

Santo Domingo Airport is mainly served by Caribbean and North & South American airlines but also features some European carriers. Photo by Aerodom.

It’s not just airlines that are suffering from the coronavirus crisis. Having had its best year on record in 2019, with a 15.4% rise in passenger numbers, Santo Domingo’s growth was also expected to continue well into 2020. However, the airport operator’s Chief Commercial Officer, Alvaro Leite, tells AeroNewsX that that is no longer the case.

Santo Domingo Airport is part of the Aeropuertos Dominicanos Siglo XXI group (Aerodom) which owns a number of airports in the Dominican Republic. The group is also part of the VINCI Airports portfolio since April 2016, which operates 45 airports across the world.

Demand & Recovery

Short and medium haul growth has always been a key focus for Santo Domingo Airport, keeping in mind the airport’s ‘perfect mix’ when it comes to demand; there’s a balance between passengers travelling for leisure purposes, business reasons and visiting friends and family. As a consequence, it’s easier for Santo Domingo to recover from this crisis. Leite used the example of Puerto Plata at which 95% of the traffic is tourism-based.

Geographical Location

“Santo Domingo’s strategic geographical position is perfect as it is situated between South and North America,” Leite explained. As a result, there’s been significant demand for flights to countries like Venezuela after all direct flights from the South American country to the United States were suspended. Passengers have used the Dominican Republic as a gateway to the United States. More importantly, however, Santo Domingo is an ideal connection point in between the two continents.

Short & medium haul connectivity across these two continents has been key to the airport’s growth. In addition, long-haul European services, such as the TUI flight from Brussels, contributed to Santo Domingo’s 2019 success. However, with the coronavirus crisis, the Chief Commercial Officer does not have much hope for the airport’s leisure long-haul services this year.

“Because of the coronavirus crisis, Europeans will travel to destinations closer to them if they want to go on holiday.”

Coronavirus effects

Since the coronavirus crisis, Santo Domingo’s passenger operations have virtually vanished. Leite mentioned Copa Airlines as an example, which operated approximately 32 weekly flights per week from Panama City. However, Copa Airlines’ entire international network was suspended following the implementation of new travel restrictions put into place by the Panamanian government.

Having hopes to resume operations on June 1, this was postponed after Panama’s government took the decision to extend its lockdown measures. Copa Airlines now hopes to resume service to Santo Domingo on 26 June with a 737-800 twice weekly, less than 10% of its original schedule. From 3 July, 2020, service will be increased to daily which is still a far cry from its pre-coronavirus schedule. Such cuts extend across the Santo Domingo Airport network.

Copa Airlines' Santo Domingo operations have dramatically decreased. Photo by Brandon Ravelo | AeroNewsX

However, freighter operations are inevitably doing well, as passenger airlines turn to cargo as a temporary alternative. In fact, freighter capacity is up 10%. There have been a number of unique flights over the last couple of weeks, including a Hifly Airbus A380-800 which landed on Santo Domingo’s runway which is one of the longest in the region. The airport also received an El Al Israel Boeing 787 which brought over cargo from China before returning to Tel Aviv with pineapples.

The Airport’s Future

Concluding the interview, Leite exclusively revealed plans to introduce a scheme that rewards airlines using greener aircraft. The project, which is still at very early stages in its development, would form part of the group’s environmental ambitions.

As the coronavirus crisis continues to pose a threat to growth within the aviation industry, Aerodom is confident in the recovery of Santo Domingo by fully exercising its model to attract airlines and therefore customers. Its strategic geographical location and the Dominican Republic’s beautiful beaches, Leite noted, are just some of the many things Aerodom hopes to promote in an attempt to return to normalcy.


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