Just before sunset Wednesday, a signature red and white Avianca Airbus 319 aircraft made a smooth landing at Puerto Rico’s Luis Muñoz Marín Airport, marking the return of Colombia’s flagship carrier to the island for the first time since 2001.
The carrier’s thrice-weekly flights connecting San Juan and Colombia’s bustling capital Bogotá are expected to broaden economic activity between the two cities, which are looking to drum up bilateral business in coming months, Gov. Alejandro García-Padilla said at a news conference at the airport minutes before the plane arrived.
Puerto Rico will reap significant benefits right off the bat, as the connection between the two territories will create about 160 jobs — 40 direct and 120 indirect — during the first year of operations, generating an economic impact of between $125 million and $150 million. Avianca will offer round-trip flights on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.
“This Avianca plane comes loaded with commitment and entrepreneurship. Now I have to tell you what it will take back — this first flight is taking back a large portion of my economic team on a trade mission to Bogotá,” said García-Padilla.
The delegation headed by Secretary of State David Bernier, Economic Development and Commerce Secretary Alberto Bacó, Puerto Rico Trade and Commerce Executive Director Francisco Chévere, Tourism Company Executive Director Ingrid Rivera, as well as a group of print media reporters.
Puerto Rico government officials will meet with their Colombian counterparts and will sign a Memorandum of Understanding to promote commercial, cultural and educational development, cooperation in the areas of medical services, infrastructure, tourism, agriculture and education, as well as improving visa procedures, García-Padilla said.
Avianca pulled out of the Puerto Rico market in 2001 for several reasons, including a lack of government support at the time and its own internal corporate issues.Danilo Correa, commercial director for Avianca’s Mexico, Central America and Caribbean division. (Credit: © Mauricio Pascual)
To help Avianca get started in the San Juan market, the Puerto Rico Tourism Company has agreed to provide $300,000 in incentives for advertising and other investments related to getting them set up at the airport.
On Wednesday, Danilo Correa, commercial director for Avianca’s Mexico, Central America and Caribbean division, said returning to Puerto Rico took “two years of efforts.” The carrier’s return was announced in April.
“This new connection opens doors for trade, tourism, and commercial exchanges between our countries,” he said. “At the same time, this route gives us the opportunity to offer in Puerto Rico access to destinations with great tourist potential and business, starting with Bogotá, one of the largest cities in Latin America for economic and social development.”