The lights that help guide jetliner pilots landing at JuanSantamaríaInternationalAirport west of San José on foggy nights have been out since 2004, and officials have yet to agree on a plan to fix them.
The lights, now too old to repair, were once situated approximately 450 meters off the runway, in an area dominated by farmland dedicated to growing flowers, and a tin recycling plant.
The airport’s Civil Aviation Authority has been attempting to expropriate the land for three years without success, according to Mario Zamora, president of the Costa Rica Airline Association and TACA, the regional airline that services Central America.
Zamora said landowners, tired of interference from airline officials, declined to sell their property in 2005. The expropriation process is ongoing.
Viviana Martín, president of the Civil Aviation Council, told the daily La Nación last week that the process should have taken place immediately, while there was still open dialogue with landowners.
Misunderstandings and disagreements on the part of both the landowners and the council have led to the three-year delay.
Zamora explained that the lack of direction lights doesn’t directly influence passenger safety, because planes don’t land when the conditions and lighting aren’t adequate.
“Planes won’t land because they don’t want to take the chance,” he said.
But the lack of appropriate lighting does affect passenger convenience – and the economy, including airlines, which suffer the consequences of cancelled and delayed flights.
“At this time of year, and particular during the heaviest rains of September and October, many flights are turned away, or cancelled, because of the lack of lights,” Zamora said.
Statistics from Alterra, the company that manages the airport, indicate that 10 flights were cancelled in June, and 59 were redirected to other terminals due to poor night lighting conditions.
Zamora emphasized that each cancelled or redirected flight ignites a ripple effect, costing airlines money in air fuel and administration, and costing hotels lost nights in client visits.