The sevenfold increase in tourism in Costa Rica over the past 25 years 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 the 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 78 percent of Costa Rica’s international air traffic and 52 percent of the 2.3 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 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 Aeris Holding Costa Rica, the 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 the completion of the airport’s expansion, which included extending the terminal to permanently house security, immigration and customs, renovating boarding bridges, building additional hold rooms as well as remote stands for buses and additional aircraft parking facilities. The project also financed the rebuilding of the apron and one of the taxiways, construction of new commercial tenant spaces and sterile corridors, , runway rehabilitation, renovation and expansion of baggage claim, and water treatment plant improvements.
The project provided the contractual stability and financing structure that will facilitate financing of the remaining works, enabling the airport to increase its current 3.5 million annual passenger capacity to 6 million passengers a year by 2026. To accomplish this, the program will finance construction works to meet aircraft parking requirements (international and domestic passenger, general aviation, and cargo), and passenger hold rooms, and terminal processors , including passenger check-in, security screening, outbound baggage handling system, inbound passport control, baggage claim, customs/ agricultural screening, transfer passenger security screening, and car parking.
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, Juan Santamaría International Airport is becoming a hassle-free airport of the future.
- Romina Tan Nicaretta