TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – Honduras is to convert a U.S.-built military airbase northwest of its capital into a civilian airport to replace the city’s current one, considered one of the most dangerous in the world, officials said Tuesday.
The work on the Soto Cano base located in the town of Palmerola, 75 kilometers (50 miles) from the capital Tegucigalpa, will begin in mid-2016, take 18 months to complete, and is expected to cost $136 million.
A German-Honduran consortium, Inversions Emco, will carry out the project after being the only company to respond to the government’s tender.
President Juan Orlando Hernández said on his official Facebook page that the construction of an 11,000-square-meter (118,500-square-foot) passenger terminal on the base will create “more than 1,000 new jobs.”
The U.S. military built Soto Cano three decades ago as part of the U.S. strategy to counter Sandinista rebels who took over neighboring Nicaragua, and other left-wing insurgents in Central America.
Currently the base is used for U.S. regional operations against drug smugglers and for humanitarian and disaster relief missions. It is jointly run with Honduras, which operates an air force flight school there.
It houses 500 U.S. military personnel who are rotated every few months because Honduras’ constitution bars a “permanent” foreign military presence.
The airbase already has a runway more than 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) long and with a far easier approach than the current one serving the capital, Toncontín.
Toncontín airport, just six kilometers (four miles) from the center of Tegucigalpa, is considered extremely hazardous because of mountains and a short runway unsuitable for anything bigger than midsize passenger aircraft.
Watch how crazy it is to land at Toncontín:
Plans have been mooted for years to convert Soto Cano airbase for civilian use, but they were repeatedly put down.
The United States had been investing recently in the base to improve living conditions for its personnel posted there.