Three representatives from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) descended on the island to study the possibility of establishing an air carrier hub in Puerto Rico, easing federal regulations for air cargo operations on the island and opening the door to new economic opportunities.
As part of the analysis, ordered by a congressional legislation approved last year, the officials evaluated the island’s capacity to sort, handle and consolidate transportation to and from the United States.
During the four-day visit, Heather Krause, director of GAO’s Physical Infrastructure team, Travis Thomson and Sean Peck met with officials from the Ports Authority, the Department of Economic Development and Commerce and Aerostar Airport Holdings, the private company that administers the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (LMM).
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During the meeting with the executive director of the Ports Authority, Anthony Maceira, the trio reviewed aspects of international air cargo services between the United States and countries in Africa, Europe, the Caribbean Basin, Europe, Central and South America.
Maceira explained that the conversation included details of the type and value of the cargo currently managed on the island, the main air cargo carriers, routes and airports used.
Aside from mentioning the island’s strengths, Maceira pointed out that Puerto Rico has the longest airstrip in the Caribbean at the Aguadilla International Airport and excellent runways at the LLM airport in Carolina, Mercedita in Ponce and the José Aponte Airport in Ceiba.
These key attributes, according to Maceira, place Puerto Rico at the forefront of becoming a hub for air cargo and passengers that could serve as a bridge between the Caribbean region, Central and South America and Europe.
“We continue to work to maximize the assets of the Port Authority, always encouraging greater economic activity and job creation,” he said.
Resident Commissioner, Jenniffer González Colón, who proposed the amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2018 that paved the way for the study on international air cargo markets, praised the worked of local officials.
“The Census Information Center at the University of Puerto Rico’s Cayey campus estimates that if Puerto Rico were given the chance to tap into cargo-growth opportunities it could have an economic impact of $405.3 million,” González highlighted.
She also indicated that this initiative is supported by the Fiscal Oversight and Management Board.
GAO must submit its final report to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation of the Senate no later than a year after the date of enactment of this Act.
Aside from supporting the study, the government has made other moves in an effort to developed the air cargo industry.
Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced and the Secretary of Economic Development Manuel A. Laboy recalled that last June the government of Puerto Rico asked the U.S. Department of Transportation to waive or exempt the island from the restrictions imposed by the air cabotage laws.
A dispensation for compliance with these regulations, noted Vázquez, would help create the platform needed to turn the island into an air cargo hub. “It would undoubtedly make Puerto Rico an important player in this activity throughout the Caribbean region, including Central and South America, generating significant additional economic activity for the island,” Vázquez insisted.
However, the efforts to transform Puerto Rico’s international airports into centrally located hubs for air passengers and cargo flowing between Europe and Latin America have encountered the opposition of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), that sees the island’s proposal as threatening to U.S. jobs and businesses.
Yet, the government’s petition is nothing new, Alaska and Hawaii already benefit from similar regulatory relief.