Monday, April 23, 2012

Scoping out airports.

The flight I will take to Ecuador first arrives at the Mariscal Sucre International Airport in Quito, the capital city of Ecuador.  Quito was established as long ago as the 16th century, when it was the northern capital of the Inca Empire.  The Incas demolished the city to keep it from falling into the hands of the Spanish conquistadors, and Spain built on top of those ruins its colonial city about 1534. Quito is at an altitude of 9,000 feet nestled in a valley high in the Andes mountain ranges.  It’s 22 miles long from north to south and 3 miles wide from east to west. It’s 2010 population was more than 2,576,000.
I’ll arrive at the Quito airport at 10:00 pm, but the next flight to my destination city of Cuenca doesn’t depart until next day at noon. The map below shows Cuenca located 187 miles south of Quito. 

When the travel agent at Panorama Travel Agency in San Mateo explained I’d need to wait 14 hours for the next flight, I thought to opt to sit in the airport lounge until the flight to Cuenca.  I’d get my luggage, guard it with fierce determination, and wait. But while researching for this post, I found advice that sounds much better than what I had in mind. Apparently the Quito airport is usually crowded with such a jostle of people it would be better to book a hotel room in advance, grab one of the many taxis waiting just outside the airport building, then hand the taxi driver a slip of paper with the address to the hotel. I’d be tired after all that flight time and could use the comfort of a bed. I arrive in Cuenca July 31--- the day before my Spanish language lessons begin at the Simon Bolivar Spanish School.

The Mariscal Sucre International Airport in Quito began operating in 1960, and at an elevation of 8,400 feet it’s one of the highest in the world for airports. It’s a five minute drive from Quito’s financial district and because Quito is surrounded by mountains, the airport is blocked from expansion to make room for larger aircraft and increased air traffic---there’s no room. Sixteen accidents have occurred at or near the Quito airport from November 1960 to September 2011, including crashes into mountains, residential neighborhoods, and overshoots of the runway.  Fatalities during this 51 year time-frame equal 215.

Mariscal Sucre International Airport in Quito

A new Quito airport that’s ten times larger than the one in current use has been under construction since 2006 and according to reports will begin operating in October 2012. The new airport is 12 miles east of the center of Quito and since its elevation is 7,200 feet above sea level compared with 8,424 feet at the old airport, the new one is expected to reduce incidents of altitude sickness. Infrastructure development to support the airport includes building a two mile road and water pipe to the airport terminals. 

New airport in early stage of construction in Quito

Mariscal Lamar International Airport in Cuenca.