Saturday 9 December 2023

Transport Minister: “We have to forget about the airport in Orotina for a few years”

Ministry of Transport will begin this year negotiations to extend the San Jose international terminal contract; Necessary works will be defined to attend the services and eventual compensation for losses in pandemic

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QCOSTARICA – The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes (MOPT) – Ministry of Public Works and Transport – intends to begin negotiations with the manager of the Juan Santamaría airport (SJO) this year to extend the contract, which will remain the country’s main airport  for a long time to come.

The Santamaría resumed operation for commercial flights in August, after almost five months of closure, but it wasn’t until the end of the year that it consolidated the recovery of an important part of the flights it operated before the pandemic. Photo: David Vargas

MOPT Minister Rodolfo Méndez Mata emphasized: “We have to forget about the airport in Orotina for a few years and concentrate on the Santamaría.”

Studies concluded before the pandemic indicated that the San Jose airport, located in Alajuela, would have life until 2040 and a little beyond, which is convenient given the decision to put on pause the development of a new airport in Orotina promoted by the previous administration, which had also been continued from the beginning of the current administration.

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Read more: Where and when is Costa Rica going to build its new airport?

“With the pandemic it is easy to understand that it (the airport) has more life, what we have to see is how we manage the extension of that life, for the user, to meet the demand in the best possible way. It seems to us that expanding the relationship with the manager, who has shown to do a commendable task, is the best alternative and we would enter into a process of whether it is a feasible route,” said Méndez.

The San Jose airport is under the management of Aeris Holding, whose contract expires in 2026.

According to Méndez, if the contract expansion occurs, there are aspects that the Government must resolve, such as the need to commission new works that guarantee efficient operation in the coming years, and, the eventual financial compensation that the manager is empowered to claim for the months in which its income fell by more than 70% due to the closure of operations due to the health emergency of covid-19.

The minister affirmed that in this way, in addition, they could guarantee users rates similar to those currently available and that those costs do not suffer the impact of the pandemic.

Méndez said that the team that will carry out the negotiation process, which will work hand in hand with representatives of the General Directorate of Civil Aviation, will be formed the first months of the year.

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Once the terms of the new contract have been finalized, it must be submitted for approval by the Comptroller General.

Months ago, the Deputy Minister of Infrastructure and Concessions, Olman Elizondo, had indicated that a report is already being worked on with possible scenarios in the operation of the San Jose airport terminal.

This commission arose at the time that the manager confirmed that it would suspend some of the expansion works included in the master plan, due to the fall in revenue due to the pandemic.

Among the works that were stopped is the relocation of the fire station and the construction of the so-called infill project, a building on four levels where 16 counters would be added to check-in passengers or baggage delivery; 15 additional self-service check-in kiosks, an additional baggage claim carousel and more space for the Customs and Agriculture area, as well as for airline offices; which was just in the early stages of construction.

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In the case of the transfer of fire station, the intention was to resume work this year, since the agility with which emergency bodies can move to any point in the airport is a requirement that is part of international regulations. Regarding the infill project, Aeris considers that now it is not such an urgent work, so it could be postponed until 2023-2024.

In addition, it indicated, it would give priority to other types of improvements, more associated with technology and automation of services, such as self-check stations and biometric reading of passports.

The minister affirmed that another issue that must be addressed “urgently” this year is work on the runway at the Daniel Oduber airport (LIR), in Liberia, which requires an investment of US$100 million.

According to the Minister, the funds for these works were also affected by the pandemic, so they are now looking for an alternative that implies a lower investment to carry out that work.

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