Farewell UIO, Hello UIO

We flew to the old airport in Quito for the last time in mid-February

One of the most challenging airports in the world, “Aeropuerto Internacional Mariscal Sucre”, is situated in Quito in the middle of the Andes, in a valley extending 50 kilometres in length but just six in width. The approach into the Ecuadorian capital is a particularly demanding one for pilots. However, there was another task awaiting on the horizon – the airport was moving to a new location at the end of February.

Quito’s incredible panorama is truly breathtaking. However, there’s no doubt that the threatening sight of towering Andes mountain peaks and low clouds over a dizzying chasm are cause enough to catch one’s breath. Tremendous care is needed on approach. Aircraft must not be too heavily loaded on takeoff as it could prevent them gaining sufficient altitude in time. It’s not for nothing that the airport is classified “Category C”, given to particularly demanding airports. Only specially trained pilots are allowed to take off and land there.

“The specialised training includes four hours of simulator work – including engine failure – intensive map study at home and a detailed briefing on route”, explained captain Matthias Marx, Head of Training at Lufthansa Cargo. Will the move to the new airport change any of this? Matthias Marx: “No. The new airport has also been classified a Category C due to the mountains and difficult terrain. Our preparations in the Training department will remain the same, but have of course been adapted to the new airport."

One Lufthansa Cargo employee was particularly excited about the airport move – Marcelo Gandara. “The improved infrastructure offered by the new airport will give Lufthansa Cargo a good basis to position itself more strongly against competitors”, explained station manager, obviously pleased with the new situation. He started working for Lufthansa back in 1983 and soon moved to freight, where he still functions as a General Sales Agent in a ten-person team for Transoceanica and Lufthansa Cargo.

“The entire airport has been moved to the edge of the city – the changeover from the old airport to the new airport took place from one night to the next”, said Gandara. All processes ran at the old site until 19 February 2013 and then from the new one since 20 February.

The move to the modern airport generated great export growth potential. The new airport is situated 400 metres lower, while the runway is a kilometre longer. Freighters are now able to take off without weight restrictions. From the old airport in Quito, the MD-11, with a normal loading capacity of some 90 tonnes, could only take off with a maximum load of 59.5 tonnes – the equivalent of some 30% less freight. “The capacity of the MD-11 can be fully utilised at the new airport, so we are now able to transport a lot more on the flights”, explained Marcelo.

“The Ecuadorian market is special as it is reliant on just one product – flowers”, said Marcelo Gandara. September to May is generally peak season, with demand especially high for Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.