Costa Rica announces plans for a new airport

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The government jubilantly issued a grand plan to build a new major, international airport within the municipality of Orotina on Wednesday.

To be clear, construction is not quite underway yet but it seems as though the current administration under President Luis Guillermo Solís had documents and studies abundant to expedite the process as soon as possible. Cataloged within a thick 2,829 pages was a report containing more than 24 technical and feasibility studies from more than 120 professionals, Casa Presidencial said.

The report included: a site study, master plan, and some pre-design, financial and feasibility studies completed by the Corporación Centroamericana de Servicios de Navegación Aérea and the British construction giant Mott MacDonald Limited.

The former is a regional integration entity in charge of ensuring airworthiness and air safety in the region, according to a statement by the government.

More than $1.8 million was invested in the study alone but perhaps thankfully, this came from the corporation’s member states.

Among other results, the study concluded that the canton of Orotina. For those that do not know, Orotina sits roughly between the capital San José and near a crossroads where travelers can choose to head towards Puntarenas or go south to Tarcoles and Jacó.

If the airport were constructed then presumably it provides an opportunity for tourists and expats to bypass Juan Santamaría International Airport and traffic in the greater metropolitan area altogether. In other words, this means a more direct route to the beaches along or close to the Gulf of Nicoya and beyond.

The master plan details that the new airport would begin operations in 2027 with an expected 7.8 million passengers passing through it each year until reaching its maximum capacity of more than 50 million people every year. The project will be divided in three phases, according to this plan.

The first segment details the construction of around 128,000 square meters worth of a terminal along with two tracks for the planes and a main access road for people to enter and exit the terminal.

The second and third phases construct the second runway, transport infrastructure, the airport’s gates and facilities as well as the terminal.

The total square meters of the terminal is expected to be around 460,000, Horacio Rossi, the director for aviation at Mott MacDonald, said.

The government’s report also yielded the benefits in choosing Orotina including its location as well as the fact that it is almost at sea level and has flat terrain with no mountains as natural obstacles.

The canton also does not have high buildings and the potential for environmental damage is minimal, the government consistently repeated. It seems as if the project is going to be moved forward as quickly as can be.

Shortly after the formal announcement came out as to the existence of plans to build it, Solís and Carlos Villalta, the head of the public works ministry, co-sponsored an executive order issuing eminent domain on the lands where the airport is to be built as being those of public and national interest.

“The surrounding area is mainly composed of plots for growing pastures for livestock, crops, housing and extensive livestock activities,” a statement from the government justifying the move said.

“The rate of environmental fragility is low and very low, the study says, due to the involvement of human activities in the area. The Manglar de Tivives is not affected by the activity, given its location.”

The Consejo Técnico de Aviación Civil was correspondingly then ordered to begin the process of applying for and receiving the approval of the environmental permits popularly known as SETENA.

The entity is also now responsible for promoting the studies at environmental, bird and project development assessments, the government said. Additionally, the group may request the forestry administration to come in and clear the land, if necessary, to execute this project.

It is estimated that the airport would require an initial investment of almost $2 million and generate a total of 80,000 jobs.

These jobs include those directly related to the airport as well as jobs that could be induced or indirectly produced.

The total contribution to the country’s gross domestic product would be $1.5 million each year, Casa Presidencial said.

The study concludes that the airport is financially viable through a public-private partnership involving full funding based on resources that do not come from the government.

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