Air Transport World

'Spirit of Costa Rica' Lacsa sets out to match the initiatives of its home country by moving into high-tech aircraft and taking on Japanese partners. (includes related article) (company profile)

SAN JOSE, COSTA RICA-The small, privately owned flag carrier of the second-smallest country in Latin America-51,100 sq. km or 19,700 sq. mi. of land mass and a population of only 2.9 million-is making history and surprising the industry much as its home country has surprised the world in recent years by maintaining stability in often-turbulent Latin America and liberalizing its economic policies.

Lacsa is the first Latin American carrier to operate new-technology fly-by-wire Airbus A320s, ordering four through a lease arrangement involving GATX. The airline has taken delivery of two and also has ordered two Airbus A310-300s, to be delivered in 1992 and 1994. In addition, it is the first in the region to open doors for a rare kind of aviation partner in this part of the world: The Japanese. In 1987, the Sanyo Oil group acquired 4.6% of Lacsa's capital shares. observers here believe about 40% more was purchased by Japanese nationals living in Costa Rica and also indirectly by Japanese through Costa Ricans.

The current pioneering characteristics of Lacsa are very much likened to Costa Rica's general trend as a nation. Actually, the airline labels itself the "Spirit of Costa Rica." That is not just a slogan but translates a connection between the airline and the country that is being enhanced purposefully as a strategic move in the marketplace.

Says Paulo Manso, the assistant to the president and corporate planning director: "Our whole effort in the 1980s was to build up a network of routes and fifth-freedom rights throughout Central America and to add new destinations to the U.S. and Puerto Rico. We achieved that goal. Now, for the 90s, we are emphasizing the role of Lacsa essentially as the carrier of leisure traffic, because of the tourist boom in Costa Rica. We have a strong traffic base here.

"Taking our services to Los Angeles as an example, we see that despite fifth-freedom rights along the way in San Salvador, San Pedro Sula, Guatemala City and Mexico City, the San Jose-Los Angeles leg provides more than 50% of the revenues on the route." But first, a broader picture of how the airline and the country match.

There is the admitted ambition of the Costa Rican authorities to gain a unique position for the country on the world economic scene as the most modem and international Central American nation, seizing the position held by Panama until the U.S. crackdown on the regime of Manual Noriega, that was capped with the invasion of late 1989.

This national project got a push in 1982, when the government started a difficult but eventually successful renegotiation of its foreign debt. The restructuring program, first phase of which lasted until 1987, managed to achieve some balance between the social price a nation usually pays under streamlining conditions imposed by the World Bank, the international Monetary Fund and other agencies, on one hand, and economic growth on the other. …

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