White-Knuckle Quito Airport To Close

Ecuador readies new facility outside capital.

Quito Airport

Quito Airport

Ecuador’s Mariscal Sucre International Airport, considered one of the most dangerous in Latin America because of its high altitude and boxed-in location in the center of crowded Quito, is closing next month to make way for a new international airport about 12 miles northeast of the city.

Landing at Ecuador’s capital has long been considered a challenge by pilots because of the airport’s 9,229-foot altitude and the often punishing winds as arrivals negotiate among towering volcanoes nearby to land on the single, 10,000-foot runway.

On February 19, Quito will move its airport outside the city to a much larger site, made necessary by the fact that the original airport, christened in 1960, cannot encroach another inch into the city of 2.2 million.

Since it was built, Mariscal Sucre has seen 10 serious accidents. In 1984, a DC-8 clipped navigation aids on takeoff and plunged onto neighboring homes, killing 49.

Fourteen years later, a Cubana de Aviacion Tupolev 154 crashed on takeoff, killing 76. Most accidents and incidents at the airport have been caused by runway overruns. The most recent happened in November when a Copa Airlines Boeing 737-700 went off the runway in heavy rain.

Quito, which handles about 220 departures and arrivals a day, carries an average of 451,000 passengers a year and is served by nearly 40 airlines and cargo operators. Once the airport closes, development is expected to erase it from the map for good.