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Visitors to Daniel Oduber International Airport in Liberia, capital of the northwestern province of Guanacaste, in January increased nearly 30 percent for a record high of 31,637 tourists, the Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT) reported in February. The airport introduced nine new flights last year alone, and as of February has 53 weekly flights on almost a dozen international carriers, according to the ICT.
Following these growth trends, Nature Air launched its second international route this year, a four-times-weekly San José-Managua flight. Frontier Airlines started up a weekly flight between Liberia and Denver, Colorado, and USA 3000, an Apple Vacations partner, added St. Louis to its Chicago-Liberia route in February. US Airways now flies seasonally to Philadelphia and Phoenix, in addition to its year-round Charlotte, North Carolina flight (which will have a reduced schedule after May). And Copa Airlines will be starting service to Toronto, Canada, through Panama City as of June 15.
The open-skies agreement Costa Rica signed with Brazil in February will allow for expanded airline routes between Costa Rica and South America’s economic powerhouse. And the Nicaraguan start-up Nica Air is testing the waters later this year with flights to Mexico, Cuba and Venezuela, EFE news service reported in March.
However, with rising oil prices and world economic woes, airlines remain cautious. Many routes to Costa Rica run seasonally, cutting back frequency or stopping altogether during the rainy months of May to December. Frontier announced a reduced Denver-San José schedule between May 1 and June 7, as reported in the Denver Business Journal in March.
In the meantime, Costa Rican conservationists are trying to keep the pollution generated by flights in check through an innovative Climate-Conscious Traveler certification program, said Jürgen Stein, board member of Costa Rica’s National Ecotourism Chamber (CANECO).
“The goal is to offset 20 percent of the CO2 emissions of flights entering the country by certifying companies that contribute to the reforestation program coordinated by CANECO,” Stein said.
For example, a tourist on a flight from Germany to Costa Rica generates six tons of carbon emissions, which translates to $30 per person in reforestation costs.
“Nobody wants to pay this additional fee, so the costs would be shared by hotels and tour operators,” Stein explained. This effort addresses a gap in the Kyoto Protocol, which does not spell out regulations for international air or marine emissions, he added.
Dynamic local carrier Nature Air – which in 2009 became the world’s first certified carbon-neutral airline by working with the National Forestry Financing Fund to offset its carbon emissions (TT, May 22, 2009) – started a new inter-destination Arenal-Quepos route last year. The airline also offers a shuttle between Juan Santamaría International Airport in Alajuela, northwest of San José, and the domestic Tobías Bolaños Airport in the western district of Pavas for $8 per person to facilitate connections with international flights.
“We hope to add larger planes to our fleet by the end of this year in order to consider longer routes such as Panama City,” said Claire Saylor, marketing director for Nature Air. She added that the airline is also studying developments at Daniel Oduber airport for potential new flights out of Liberia, where construction on a new terminal that will include two boarding areas, a food court, souvenir stands and a sports bar is expected to be completed by November (TT, April 15).
For the upcoming rainy season, readers should keep in mind that many international flights have schedule changes starting in May, and that most Nature Air routes switch to mornings during the “green season.” In addition, some carriers, including Continental, change their schedules during daylight savings time in North America (March 13 to Nov. 6, 2011) in order to maintain connection times.