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A new airport in Ecuador located a 23-mile drive east of Quito, opened for business Feb. 20 with one of the longest runways in South America, facilities to handle up to 6 million passengers annually, and plans for improved cargo facilities for shipments of cut flowers. The new airport, called Mariscal Sucre International Airport, the same name held by the old airport in Quito proper, will be served by 21 cargo airlines, 12 of them serving Miami.

The old airport, which will become a city park, offered white-knuckle landings at a steep angle onto a cramped runway at almost 9,000 feet altitude with towering volcanoes nearby. Its runway was a little less than two miles long. The new airport is 10 times bigger and boasts a main runway of about two and a half miles. Cargo flights had to take off from the old airport with less than a full load of cargo and fuel, then fill up their gas tanks at the coast before flying to Miami.

With its longer runway, the new airport can accommodate larger aircraft and, more importantly, allow departing planes to carry more fuel so that refueling stops between Quito and Miami will no longer be needed. Elimination of the refueling stops in warmer, lower-altitude places like Panama City allows flowers to arrive at their destinations sooner, The Chain of Life online newsletter noted recently, and also reduces the chances they will warm up and lose vase life.

Attendees at the 2012 FlorEcuador show observed frantic construction work on the highway to the new airport last fall, and the $48 million express road is still not completed. It will be opened in stages through 2014, and is expected to reduce distance and drive time to downtown Quito from 90 minutes to 40 minutes. The good news for flower growers in Cayambe is that the new location will shorten truck trips from there to the airport by about an hour.

“Ecuador grows some of the finest flowers in the world, but that doesn’t mean flowers end up in consumers’ hands looking like they did when they were at flower farms,” said Terry Johnson, head of Horticultural Marketing Services.

“One study of 7,640 flower boxes shipped from Quito ... revealed flower temperatures averaged above 63 upon landing in Miami. Those high temperatures and the time flowers remained hot extracted at least 40 percent of flower vase life,” according to the study, he added.

“Alejandro Martinez, new president of Expoflores, understands the cold chain and is anxious for the new airport construction to be finished. He knows the cargo area will include a perishables center which can ensure flowers leaving Ecuador, regardless of destination or method of shipping (air cargo or sea container), will be shipped at proper temperatures (34-36),” Mr. Johnson said.

Until the proper refrigeration facilities are completed at the new airport, most flowers are still handled in present facilities near downtown Quito, then trucked to the new airport.