Costa Rica Coffee Guide

Rejected takeoff? Future of Orotina airport remains uncertain

December 16, 2019

When the Public Works and Transport Ministry (MOPT) announced a multi-million dollar investment to improve Costa Rica’s airports, one location was notably absent.

MOPT will dedicate more than $160 million to Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport in Liberia, Guanacaste, and other airfields throughout the country, but the institution is not allocating funds for the new Metropolitan International Airport that was planned for the Alajuela canton of Orotina.

Speaking to reporters earlier this month, Rodolfo Méndez Mata, Minister of MOPT, said the government is questioning the need for a new airport, which was projected to begin operations by 2027.

“With the Orotina airport, all the speculation and expectation was generated a couple of years ago,” Méndez said. “But the conditions for a transfer from one airport to another are still far from being implemented. Even the need itself is in question.

“Therefore, today that project could not be present.”

The expectation, Méndez said, is that Juan Santamaría International Airport in Alajuela will remain Costa Rica’s principal airport for the foreseeable future. Liberia’s international airport, which serves the province of Guanacaste, will be “very important, but secondary.”

“The signs we have, the studies that exist, tell us that Juan Santamaría Airport still has many years of life left,” he said. “Fortunately, that is the case.

“If we wanted to have another airport to replace Juan Santamaría, the truth is that the economic conditions of the country and the studies that exist are not conducive to that.”

New airport delayed, would require infrastructure improvements

Construction on the new Orotina airport was scheduled to begin in 2018, according to former MOPT Minister Carlos Villalta.

The proposed airport would have several advantages. In addition to being larger than SJO, it would remain close to the Greater Metropolitan Area (GAM) while providing tourists easier access to popular Pacific Coast destinations. An airfield near sea level would also allow planes to take off carrying more payload and reach more distant destinations.

But Méndez has reportedly said that the studies conducted by British firm Mott MacDonald for the government of President Luis Guillermo Solís (2014-2018) were insufficient.

“The studies that have been done, to date, are partial,” the MOPT Minister told CRHoy.

While Juan Santamaría International Airport will someday need to be replaced, Méndez said it remains satisfactory.

The Mott MacDonald report indicated several infrastructure improvements are necessary to support a major international airport outside the Greater Metropolitan Area. The firm recommended that Costa Rica expand Route 27, build a new highway connecting Pozón de Orotina and San Ramón, and re-start rail service between Orotina and San José.

Negotiations are ongoing to expand Route 27 beginning in 2021, according to the daily La Nación, while the Costa Rican government recently allocated funds to study the reactivation of the country’s Pacific railroad.

Meanwhile, in 2018, nearly 1.8 million international tourists arrived to Costa Rica via Juan Santamaría International Airport, according to the Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT), while more than 5.2 million total passengers transited through SJO.

Over the last year, the country’s primary airport has added four boarding gates and an additional taxiway to support its continued growth.

Investment will improve Guanacaste, other airports

Of the $160 million allocated by MOPT for airport improvements between 2020-24, the majority will go to Liberia’s International Airport.

Nearly $96 million will continue to fund taxiway and runway improvements, a new electrical system and renovated radar building for the expanding airport.

Tobías Bolaños International Airport in Pavas will receive a new terminal, repaved taxiways, and better sewage facilities, while construction of a new terminal at Limón International Airport began earlier this month. 

Completed or planned projects will also improve the following domestic airfields: Drake, San Isidro, Palmar Sur, Golfito, Guápiles, Quepos, Tortuguero, Coto 47 and Puerto Jimenez.

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