A$16 million expansion project of the DanielOduberInternationalAirport in Liberia, capital of the northwestern province of Guanacaste, is expected to be opened to bidders by tomorrow. The longawaited expansion of an airport that has become the bottleneck of Guanacaste’s booming tourism industry will mean a brand-new terminal slated for 2009.
The airport becomes particularly chaotic during the high season, as made apparent a couple of weeks ago when the Immigration computer system crashed, leaving hundreds of tourists to wait in the sweltering heat without air conditioning, a situation that last week drew fire from National Tourism Chamber (CANATUR) president Gonzalo Vargas.
“We are now in the tourism high season, and this situation (at the Liberia airport) causes a considerable nuisance,”Vargas said.
“The dissatisfaction is evident and the negative comments damage the country’s image as a vacation destination … Without a doubt, we are faced with a problem that needs to be tackled immediately.”
The system crash prompted the Guanacaste Tourism Chamber along with air-conditioning companies Refritico and Clima Ideal to donate two air conditioners for Immigration’s office in the Liberia airport.
Immigration spokeswoman Heidi Bonilla said the database collapse was the result of an overheated system.
Meanwhile, workers scrambled to complete a 1,500-square-meter, 450-passenger temporary boarding area – inaugurated last week – to augment the also 450-passenger extra boarding area opened in December (TT, Dec. 22, 2006). Both expansions were financed in part by contributions from the Guanacaste private sector in an effort to meet increasing demand during the January-April tourism high season.
Daniel Oduber expects to receive in excess of 400,000 passengers this year, a more than 600% increase in just five years, according to Ministry of Public Works and Transport (MOPT) spokesman Omar Segura.
Half of the passengers who use the airport, which was inaugurated in 1995 with a commercial flight from the U.S. city of Miami, are tourists. Each Saturday during the high season, the airport receives some 2,000 tourists, each of whom must wait in line about an hour to go through Customs and Immigration.
The expansion is expected to cut the waits in half, Segura said.
The 15,400-square-meter terminal will be built in lots neighboring the existing airport, and construction is expected to begin next year so the new terminal can be open by 2009, a year in which the airport is expected to receive 650,000 passengers.
The airport, 217 kilometers northwest of San José and eight kilometers west of Liberia, was named after former President Daniel Oduber (1970-1974). Oduber, a strong supporter of rural development, championed the idea of an airport in Guanacaste.
The airport now receives 52 flights a week. Tourism Minister Carlos Benavides has said a key part of his plan to rescue slowing tourism growth is to attract more flights from North America and Europe to Costa Rica (TT, Jan. 12). The Associated Press reported that British airline First Choice Airways plans to begin a direct flight in May between London Gatwick and Daniel Oduber. It would be the terminal’s first trans-Atlantic flight.
History of an Airport
As early as 1975, the government contracted a consulting firm to do a feasibility study on the possibility of an airport in Guanacaste. The facility would support the local agricultural economy and expected tourism growth, and would also be a backup landing spot for airplanes headed to JuanSantamaríaInternationalAirport in Alajuela, northwest of San José, in case of bad weather or other complications.
A runway was built in 1977 for small and medium-sized planes, with Guanacaste’s first terminal.
In 1978, a few lights were installed on the airstrip and area hospitals began using it for emergency airlifts.
It was also being used by the national airline LACSA and by agricultural fumigation planes.
In 1986, the small terminal was remodeled, and in 1989, as then and current President Oscar Arias awaited the arrival of the Gulf of Papagayo mega tourism project, plans were relaunched to take up the airport’s second expansion. The runway was lengthened and the asphalt improved. The $1.1 million expansion of the airport, then known as Tomás Guardia, also included a new terminal and control tower.
The airport wasn’t opened officially as the DanielOduberInternationalAirport until 1995, the same year the parking platform was expanded to make way for more airplanes.
The terminal was again expanded in 2004 and the parking platform in 2005. In December 2006 an extra boarding area was added, and another was opened just last week. The airport now awaits a $16 million, 15,400-square-meter terminal expansion slated for 2009.
Airlines Servicing Liberia
American (257-1266, www.aa.com), to and from Miami, seven days a week; to and from Dallas, Saturdays and Sundays.
Continental Airlines (296-4911, www.continental.com), to and from Houston, seven days a week; to and from Newark, Saturdays and Sundays.
Delta (257-4141, www.delta.com), to and from Atlanta, seven days a week; to and from Los Angeles, Saturdays.
Northwest (www.nwa.com), to and from Minneapolis, Saturdays.
Sunwing, Sky Service, Air Canada(243-1860, www.aircanada.com), to and from Toronto, Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
U.S. Airways (430-6690, www.usair.com), to and from Charlotte, Saturdays.
United (800-052-1243, www.united.com), to and from Chicago, Saturdays.
Nature Air (299-6000, www.natureair.com)
Sansa (290-4400, www.flysansa.com)