The sixfold increase in tourism in Costa Rica over the past three decades has brought with it the challenge to improve the country’s major airport to comfortably accommodate that influx. Costa Rica has stepped up to that challenge by transforming Juan Santamaría International Airport into one of the best airports in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Located 17 kilometers from downtown San José, Juan Santamaría handles over 90 percent of Costa Rica’s international traffic and 75 percent of the 2.2 million tourists who visit the country annually. In 2011, for the second year in a row, it was ranked by Airports Council International as the third best airport in Latin America and the one that most improved its customer service. The Airports Council is a leading industry group, made up of by 580 members that operate 1,650 airports worldwide.
Specifically, the award recognized a successful three-year restructuring of the airport completed in 2011 that was supported by the IDB. The Bank partnered with the government, the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), and the private sector firm that took over management of the airport in 2008 to revamp airport operations, complete all pending construction works related to an ongoing expansion, and restructure existing debt.
Project financing in the form of loans from the IDB and OPIC refinanced short-term debt that funded construction activities under the first two phases of the expansion, which included extending the terminal to permanently house security, immigration and customs, and additional hold rooms, renovating boarding bridges, building remote stands for buses and additional parking facilities, and rebuilding the apron and one of the taxiways.
The project also provided the contractual stability and financing structure that will facilitate financing of the third and fourth expansion phases, enabling the airport to increase its current 3.5 million annual passenger capacity to 9 million passengers a year by 2026. To accomplish this, the program will build sterile corridors to separate incoming from connecting passengers, expand the international terminal to accommodate more gates and parking positions, add a new modern domestic terminal, provide additional baggage claim facilities, extend the taxiway, and build a new rescue and firefighting facility and make other safety upgrades.
By expanding and improving services of such a critical transportation hub, Costa Rica not only becomes more attractive for business and tourists, it improves access to markets as well local and international trade. For Costa Rica and all who visit and do business there, José Santamaría International Airport is becoming a hassle-free airport of the future.