Honduras on Friday inaugurated Palmerola International Airport, which shares space with a base of US soldiers, to replace Toncontin, one of the most dangerous airports in the world.
The first flights in Palmerola, located in the Comayagua valley, 75 km north by highway from Tegucigalpa, will not leave for another month, when the control tower and facilities for airlines and passengers are completed.
With Palmerola, “Honduras is at the forefront in air connectivity,” said President Juan Orlando Hernández in a speech during the inauguration ceremony.
“We are going to maintain the civil terminal and our joint task force (military with the United States) because that is good for Honduras,” he added.
The airport facilities, which have a 2,800 m runway, seven gates and a 39,000 m2 terminal building, were built at a cost of about $200 million. It will be operated by a Honduran company with a German consortium, in a 30-year concession.
The United States built the Palmerola base in 1985, during the Cold War, under its strategy to combat guerrilla movements in Central America. At least 500 US troops remain for joint tasks with their Honduran counterparts.
The Honduran Air Force base also operates there.
Toncontín, which handles about 800,000 passengers per year and will remain open for domestic flights, is considered one of the most dangerous airports in the world by international aeronautical organizations.
To land at this airport — located on a small plain surrounded by high mountains — pilots have to navigate slopes sometimes covered in fog, then descend steeply over the roofs of houses and near a boulevard to a runway of just 1,900 m.
Pilots have to land with precision and brake immediately so as not overrun the tabletop runway, fall off a cliff and onto a busy road of vehicles.
When planes take off, they have to climb immediately so as not to crash into populated hills.
The most notable accident at Toncontín occurred in October 1985, when a commercial flight crashed into a mountain before starting the descent, resulting in 131 deaths.
In February 2011, 14 people also perished when their aircraft crashed into the mountain.
In addition, two aircraft overran the runway: on May 30, 2008, with a total of five deaths, and on May 22, 2018, when nine people were injured.