Two proposals have been submitted to date for the lease, design, construction and operation of a distribution center at the Rafael Hernández Airport in Aguadilla, according to Puerto Rico Trade & Export Co. officials.
The project is considered a linchpin in the development of Puerto Rico’s second international airport as a mega cargo hub and free trade zone (FTZ).
Puerto Rico has three free trade zones and Rafael Hernández Airport, which gained FTZ status in 2012, is the only airport on the island with such a designation.
There is still time for more companies to participate in the bidding process but it is running out fast. The deadline for submitting proposals is March 6.
In related news, Puerto Rico Trade officials said the government is close to signing an accord with a fuel supply company to set up shop in the Aguadilla airport FTZ, a positive development as “it would be an incentive to attract” more airlines, especially cargo lines, including those that might consider using the airport as a refueling spot, said Real Estate Division Senior Manager Myra Díaz-Borrero and Assistant Executive Director Agnes Crespo-Quintana in an interview.
The agency charged with evaluating the distribution center proposals is the Puerto Rico Ports Authority, whose Aviation Bureau oversees the Aguadilla airport, they said.
The distribution center, to be developed in an area of 249 acres, will consist of an as yet undetermined number of buildings providing space for companies to operate within the Aguadilla FTZ, which is an extension of FTZ #61 in Guaynabo, Díaz explained.
In its request for proposals, the Ports Authority stated that it seeks to establish the “most innovative distribution center for air cargo in Puerto Rico, increase regional exports and jobs, and ensure the airport’s economic sustainability.”
While noting “this (center) is the beginning,” Díaz said the growth of the FTZ in Aguadilla will largely depend on the private sector. The zone has been championed by the Puerto Rico District Export Council, which is the local chapter of the National Export District Council, and the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce.
Putting a price tag on the development of the distribution center is difficult. Díaz said a typical 100,000 square-foot-warehouse in a distribution center can cost upward of $9 million.
Given the state of the economy, structures will likely be built in stages with the number of structures to be built initially based on demand, she said.
Located two hours from San Juan and once part of the former Ramey Air Force base, the Aguadilla airport boasts the longest runway in the Caribbean (11,702 feet). Its traffic includes both passengers and cargo.
The Ports Authority’s request for proposal emphasized that the airport is particularly suited to serve as a center for the handling and distribution of air cargo because of its geographic location, regional needs, and FTZ designation.
The airport already generates an average monthly cargo volume of 16 million pounds, according to Ports Authority figures for Fiscal Years 2012 and 2013.
It has an FAA waiver to accept planes such as the Boeing 747-8f. This freighter plane used for cargo is a variant of the 747-8 wide-body jet airliner, currently the largest commercial aircraft built in the United States.