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Airport Renovation Debated

WITH the renovation of the country’s main internationalairport stalled for more than two yearsbecause of a contract dispute, an ambitious plan bylegislators to expand two other Costa Rican airportshas been met with hesitation.Few would deny Daniel Oduber InternationalAirport in the northwest province of Guanacaste is inneed of renovation.The airport, located in the region’s capital,Liberia, has seen massive growth in the past severalyears – the number of passengers who use it morethan tripled from April 2003 to April 2005.Five U.S. airlines now have regular flights intothe airport. As tourism and foreign investment in theregion continue to boom, no one expects airport useto decrease.HOW and by whom that airport should beexpanded, however, has yet to be determined. Manystakeholders are keeping a watchful eye on the complicatedand crucial negotiations between the governmentand Alterra Partners, which holds a 20-yearcontract to renovate and operate Juan SantamaríaInternational Airport, just outside San José. A dispute over the amount Alterra is allowed tocharge airport users has left that contract,and the airport’s renovation, in limbo.Members of the government and privatesector originally viewed the airportcontract as a pioneering model, the start ofa broader strategy that will allow privatefirms to supply the country’s growinginfrastructure needs, including other airports,through public-works concessions.However, the contract, its developmentand execution have inspired criticism frommany sectors.“THE Alterra contract is worst dealthe Costa Rican government has made inrecent years, of all the bad deals it hasmade, this is the worst,” said NationalLiberation Party legislator Sigifredo Aiza.Aiza, who represents Guanacaste, isone of the authors of a bill to improve theLiberia airport, as well as the airport in theCaribbean port city of Limón.The bill would create two private corporations(sociedades anónimas) that woulduse government capital for the renovationand administration of the airports. The airportswould be privately operated, butbecause government capital would be used,proponents say, shares and profits wouldremain in government hands – 51% for thecentral government and 49% for municipalgovernments in the airport regions.“THE legislators of Guanacaste do notwant the profits from the airport to go toprivate hands,” said Aiza, adding that thisis what happens under the Alterra contract.“We want them to go toward the developmentof the community,” said Aiza.The private company would be responsiblefor the hiring of airport administratorsfor the airports’ operation and renovation.These businesses will have the right,with government oversight, to establish thetariffs related to passenger transport, cargoand airport services.The entire operation in each airportwould be overseen by an administrationcouncil, each composed of three representativesof the central government, two municipalrepresentatives and two representativesof the private sector in each region.WHILE the Guanacaste airport is borderingoverload, Limón’s airport is littlemore than a landing strip, where no regularflights land.“Although this bill has some bad parts,anything is better than nothing, and what wehave (in Limón) in this moment is nothing ofa airport,” said Citizen Action Party legislatorEdwin Patterson, who represents Limón.Patterson voted in support of the bill lastmonth when it was passed by a vote of 7-1in the Legislative Assembly’s Commissionon Government and Administration.The bill now awaits discussion on theassembly floor.Aiza hopes the bill will be passed withinthe next six months, which is how longit will take for the design phase of the newLiberia airport to be complete.THE airport’s new design was given thego-ahead last week by the Civil AviationAuthority after the contract was approved bythe Comptroller General’s Office.The contract to create a design is heldby a consortium of three companies –Indeca Ltd., a Costa Rican planning andengineering firm with 43 years’ experience;Grupo Integra, a Costa Rican firmwith expertise in structural design; andScott Architects Association, a Canadianfirm with experience in airport design.The airport’s renovation will include twonew buildings totaling 2,400 square meters.One building will be for arrivals, with baggageclaim, Customs and Immigration areasand other services; the other building will befor departures and will include airline officesand a restaurant on the second floor.The current building will be remodeled,according to Ana Cristina Jenkins, Indecamanager.WITH the airport’s design inprogress, Aiza and the bill’s proponentswill begin lobbying their fellow legislatorsfor support.“I feel in Guanacaste there is significantsupport from the municipalities… thechambers,” he said.But stakeholders in the region’stourism and airport sectors are not quick tosupport the bill.Representatives of the airport’s currentgovernment administration, the CivilAviation Authority and the GuanacasteChamber of Tourism all told The TicoTimes the situation is delicate, and theyneed to study the proposal further beforeexpressing an opinion.All eyes appear to be on the fate of theAlterra contract.THE government and Alterra arenegotiating an addendum to Alterra’s 20-year contract that would bring economicequilibrium to the project (TT, Feb. 4).The two parties have been in a multimillion-dollar dispute regarding the contractfor more than two years centered onAlterra’s power to increase airport userfees to cover developing expenses.The two parties are now in disagreementwhether renovation to the airport,which has been halted since March 2003,should restart once the addendum isapproved by the Comptroller General’sOffice, or after other arbitration involvingthe contract is resolved, according to thedaily La República.Apart from the negotiations betweenAlterra and the Ministry of Public Worksand Transportation (MOPT), various otherdisputes regarding the contract remain inarbitration between Alterra, the governmentand construction firms.Construction on the airport was haltedin 2003 after international banks fundingthe renovation suspended the final $30million of Alterra’s $120 million loan untilthe fee dispute with the Costa Rican governmentis resolved.


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