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SJO airport improvements delayed, report says

The operator of Costa Rica’s Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) will suspend planned improvements for several years due to the effects of the pandemic, according to a report.

The daily La Nación reports that the dramatic decrease in air traffic in 2020 has created an economic situation forcing Aeris, SJO’s operator, to push back its plans for Costa Rica’s busiest airport.

Among the suspended improvements is the so-called “infill project,” a planned four-story building with more check-in kiosks, another baggage carousel and an expanded customs area.

“It’s a work that loses importance because it is linked to traffic capacity,” said Rafael Mencía, director of Aeris. “With the drastic decrease in air traffic caused by the pandemic, that work may be postponed to 2023 or 2024.”

Another delayed project is the relocation of the firefighting facilities, though that will be prioritized in 2021 due to its safety implications.

According to Aeris, the upgrades at SJO are meant to keep the Alajuela airport viable as an international hub for at least 20 more years.

But the oft-bustling airport has been largely empty in 2020. Mencía says air traffic at SJO fell 98% from March to August 2020, when Costa Rica’s borders were closed to arriving tourists due to COVID-19.

In August, as Costa Rica began welcoming visitors from Canada and Europe, overall passenger volume was still 96% lower than in August 2019.

And the International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicts global air traffic won’t return to pre-pandemic levels until at least 2024, further reducing the need for SJO’s expansion.

SJO is Costa Rica’s largest and busiest international airport, typically handling 5 million passengers each year.

Costa Rica has explored replacing SJO with a larger airport in Orotina, Alajuela, which was originally projected for opening in 2027. However, the Public Works and Transport Ministry now says it’s questioning the need for a new airport and has not advanced the project.

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