Costa Rica’s $3.5bn airport PPP scheme “to begin next year”

Costa Rica has announced that work on an international airport will begin next year, and will be financed by the private sector as the government does not have enough money to pay the expected pricetag of $3.5bn.

Carlos Villalta, the minister for public works, said the first stage of the work would be complete by 2027, and would be located Orotina, a canton some 60km west of the capital of San José. This would require investment of $1.9bn, he added.

A further three phases would follow before the airport was complete in 2047.

Planning for the Metropolitan International Airport has been led by UK consulting engineer Mott MacDonald. It has just concluded a 12 month study into the technical, environmental and financial issues, as well as traffic forecasting, infrastructure layout and terminal design.

The report projected passenger demand of 7.8 million for the first year of operation, and 50 million by the end of the century.

Horacio Rossi, Mott MacDonald’s project director, said when it was awarded the scheme in June last year: "The new airport will be a significant development for Costa Rica and support economic growth in the region. The additional capacity will enable an increase of international flights, benefitting both export and tourism."

Mott MacDonald was helped by the San José office of US architect Gensler and Costa Rican consultant FSA (formerly Franz Sauter & Asociados).

The first-phase airport will have one terminal for international and domestic passengers, a train link to San José and an "airport city" consisting of commercial and residential developments. A fly-through of the future airport and its terminal can be viewed here.

President Luis Guillermo Solís signed an executive decree on 31 May declaring that the government would acquire 370 private properties on the 1,500ha site of the future airport at a cost of around $41m.

Costa Rica’s economy has been growing rapidly in the past 10 years, with the $2bn tourism sector one of the star performers. 

More than 2 million international visitors arrive in the country each year, 85% of them in Juan Santamaría International Airport in San José, the second busiest airport in Central America after Tocumen in Panama, with passenger throughput of 4.5 million in 2015.

When the new airport is complete, this airport will only handle local flights.

Mott MacDonald previously worked on Mariscal Sucre International Airport in Quito, Ecuador, which opened in 2013.

Image: A rendering of the completed airport (Casa Presidencial)

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