Lima Runway Goes Dark, Stoking Tension Between Peru and Airlines

(Bloomberg) -- Recent chaos at Peru’s main airport, including the lights going out Sunday night on its main runway while the second runway remains inoperative, has the global airline industry fuming and heading to the Andean nation looking for answers.

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International Air Transport Association representatives plan to meet Peru’s Prime Minister Gustavo Adrianzen on Monday to get to the bottom of the issue and review other longstanding concerns, said Peter Cerda, an IATA vice president who’ll be traveling to Lima for the meeting.

“He’s finally decided to meet with us,” Cerda said of Adrianzen in an interview. “I think finally - because of what happened this past weekend - he’s realized that he cannot continue to ignore us.”

The lights of the main runway in Lima’s Jorge Chavez suddenly went off Sunday evening forcing over 200 flights to be diverted to other airports, grounding dozens of other planes and impacting over 10,000 passengers, according to IATA figures. The chaos lasted 10 hours before the runway lights were fixed. So many planes were rerouted that some had to land in airports in Chile and Ecuador.

Peru’s Transport Minister Raul Perez-Reyes told reporters this week that the incident was “fortuitous,” but local aviation officials have said they cannot rule out it happening again. The ministry did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

“What is not comprehensible is that Peru didn’t have a contingency plan that was activated,” said Cerda. “You have a brand new second runway that was finished last year and it’s not being used even though it could have been used.”

FAA Audit, Too

Peru is in the midst of transforming its aviation infrastructure. President Dina Boluarte inaugurated Lima’s second runway last year, but it has since become inoperative because of infrastructure problems at its control tower.

Peru is also building a brand new terminal to be opened in late December, but the airline industry is worried about opening the infrastructure at the height of the end-of-year travel rush. IATA is pushing for the second runway to open as soon as possible, Cerda, said, but to delay the opening of the new terminal to January.

“For many months we’ve been saying that we’re concerned about what’s happening at the airport, that we need more coordination and we just have not seen it from the government,” Cerda said.

In addition, Cerda said that Peru is undergoing a routine audit by the US Federal Aviation Administration. While Peru currently boasts a prime Category 1 designation, Cerda said officials need to take the review more seriously or risk being downgraded to Category 2.

A downgrade would mean that airlines are not allowed to increase travel frequencies between Peru and the US. Mexico was downgraded in 2021 and it took two years to regain its Category 1 designation.

“It happened to Mexico and it had a severe impact economically, socially, for that country,” Cerda said. “We have been very, very clear to the Peruvian government that hey need to take this audit very, very seriously.”

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