Taking operations at Quito International Airport through a crisis

In the midst of the global crisis caused by the outbreak of the COVID-19, airports around the world are continuing operations to receive and dispatch flights that are, in a world with reduced connectivity, essential. Ecuador’s Quito airport is sharing their experience.

A strategic hub, Quito International Airport is the main entry and exit by air for the city and the country. Since the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic began, operations at the airport, and the controls that health and immigration authorities have implemented, have played an important role in helping Ecuador contain the disease.

Andrew O’Brian, President and CEO of Corporación Quiport, the company responsible for the operation and management of the Quito International Airport, explained, “since the beginning of the situation, in mid-January, we have maintained permanent coordination at the highest level by working with the Ministry of Government, the Ministry of Transport and Public Works, the Ministry of Health, the General Directorate of Civil Aviation, the Municipality of Quito, the Metropolitan Public Company of Airport Services (EPMSA), the airlines that operate in Quito and our commercial operators, to guarantee that the measures applied at the city’s airport meet the control objectives, while at the same time the international regulations established by the International Civil Aviation Organization”.

Since the first days of this health crisis, the presence of the Ecuadorian Ministry of Public Health has been permanent, applying the necessary prevention and control protocols in accordance with the alert stages that the World Health Organization (WHO) has announced.

The work carried out at Ecuador’s main airport has not been a simple task. By Government decree, national passenger flights are suspended, as well as the arrival of passengers on international flights. Although air operations have been limited to only cargo flights and the international passenger departure flights that are sanctioned by the Ecuadorian State, the circumstances require increased effort, particularly in managing operations of export cargo, that is essential to keeping the production of flowers, the main export by air in the country.

Quiport administrative personnel, along with all the public and private entities that operate in the airport, are working remotely under work-from-home measures, while complying with the social distancing imposed by the government. The bare minimum operations personnel that are required to keep the airport functioning are present. All staff must use personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves, all must follow the recommendations to keep a distance of at least one meter from others and continuously wash their hands and use hand sanitizers.

“We have a great responsibility to keep operations open, but our even greater responsibility is to the people who work at the airport and to the travellers,” emphasizes O’Brian. Another preventive measure adopted by Quiport to avoid COVID-19 infections at the airport involves the disinfection of the passenger terminal. For this, a broad spectrum virucidal that is employed in hospitals, is used. The product is applied consistently in all areas through which airport passengers transit.

Communication is another factor that the airport operator has not neglected. In these situations, the natural fear of a pandemic is fueled by disinformation. Aware of this threat, Quiport leadership organized three fronts of communication: internal to company employees, external to companies and institutions that provide service at the airport (the airport community), and finally public, aimed at the media and public opinion in general.

For Andrew O’Brian, showing leadership has been essential. “Keeping all of our stakeholders informed gave us the necessary space to act calmly, to make the appropriate decisions at every juncture and to work collectively, while listening to the points of view, concerns and needs of all those involved in airport operations”.

As such, from the moment the Government declared a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Quiport has been acting as a valid mediator between the authorities and airlines and commercial operators, to find points of agreement that allow for the efficient implementation of the flight restriction measures necessary to control the spread of the disease and mitigate the risk of those who could be infected with the virus from entering the country.

In this context, several work sessions were held, led by the Mayor of Quito, Jorge Yunda, the General Director of Civil Aviation, Anyelo Acosta, Pablo Galindo, Undersecretary of Civil Aeronautical Transport, and other authorities, together with the managers of Quiport and airline representatives, to cover all concerns and requirements.

At the same time, a coordination mechanism was also created with the embassies of various countries to establish information channels to provide support to their citizens, while in Ecuador.

Taking advantage of lessons learned from previous situations like the social protests that paralyzed the country for 10 days in October 2019,  mechanisms are implemented to regulate the entry of passengers to the terminal and the administrative building, located in front of the terminal. An area was fitted to accommodate passengers who must stay overnight at the airport while waiting for their flight abroad. We are deeply concerned for our users; Quiport serves snacks and hot drinks to dozens of passengers who spend the night waiting for their flight to make the hours of stay a little more bearable.

Behind all this, according to O’Brian, there is a team of highly committed and highly professional workers. “The most resilient companies are those that can face crises and overcome them to move forward. Resilience is something we have acquired over the years, by facing together many complex situations that have occurred in the airport industry and in the social and economic environments in which our operation is run. The team knows that together we will prevail and we will emerge stronger from this situation.”

But it is also essential to have the support of the authorities. EPMSA is the municipal entity that acts as Quiport’s counterpart in the Public-Private Alliance for airport management. “The excellent relationship we have with the General Manager of the EPMSA, Sandro Ruiz, allows us to maintain a direct channel at the highest municipal level to ensure total alignment, essential to develop proactive management; Sandro Ruiz fully understands our role, allows us to act and intervenes in a timely manner when circumstances demand it.”

And at the end a look to the future. “Though we hope this situation ends soon, we are aware that the negative effects will be felt for months. We have nine thousand people and more than 100 entities that work at the airport that are ready to recommence our activities with resolve and resume our role as one of the main economic engines of Quito and Ecuador.”

Cargo operations have not stopped

Between March 18 to 29, a total 69 cargo flights left the Quito International Airport, transporting 2,500 metric tons of export cargo to the world.

Restrictions imposed on air transport do not affect international cargo flights, however, because of the global health emergency caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, international markets have decreased their demand. Similarly, cargo imports continue to develop to supply the country with the products and supplies necessary for various activities.

“Keeping cargo operations open allows the country’s producing sector to stay active, specifically the one related to flower production. The airport is the main point of entry and exit of goods for Quito and its area of influence, therefore, is essential to continue with the cargo operation, fulfilling the commitment made to the Mayor of Quito, Jorge Yunda, to continue supporting the productive activities of the city,” says O’Brian.

The entire air cargo logistics chain is still operational, starting in Tabacarcen, a logistics center that houses 70% of the air cargo consolidation, as well as the four palletizers that work in the export cargo terminal: Novacargo, Pertrally, Aerosan and Servipalet. Cargo airlines continue to arrive at the airport, though some flights were suspended due to lower demand.

All the actors in the logistics chain have taken the necessary protection measures to prevent infection among their collaborators, outfitting them with the necessary personal protection equipment, and at the same time continuing with their daily operations.

“It is a difficult time for everyone, but we have a great responsibility to the country. All of us involved in the activity of air cargo transportation are very well aware of this fact. We are very grateful for the commitment, determination and effort of the companies involved and their work teams, who are allowing us to continue,” concludes O’Brian.

About the Contributor:

Corporación Quiport is the company responsible for the construction, administration, operation and maintenance of the Mariscal Sucre International Airport in Quito, Ecuador.

Quiport is formed by important companies with vast experience in the concession and operation of airports: CCR of Brazil, Odinsa S.A. of Colombia and HAS Development Corporation (HAS-DC) of the United States.


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