CANCÚN, Mexico – Based on the premise that aviation and airports are a global industry, Mexico’s Grupo Aeroportuario del Sureste (ASUR) is planning to apply the same high operating standards it has in place at the Cancún International Airport in this busy tourism hub to the Luis Muñoz Marín International airport in San Juan.
“Aviation is a global business, and as a global business, it is operated that way. Every airport around the world follows the same or similar operating standards,” said Carlos Trueba-Coll, general manager of the 1.3 million square-foot Cancún Airport that was used by more than 13.2 million passengers in the past 12 months.
“We want to put our expertise in airport management, our technical capacity and professionalism in place so that the Luis Muñoz Marín Airport reaches the performance levels it has the potential to achieve,” said the executive who in the next couple of weeks will be moving to Puerto Rico in preparation to head the Carolina airport’s management team.
News is my Business, along with several other Puerto Rican media outlets, was invited to Cancún by Grupo ASUR to meet with executives and tour the facility that is the gateway for 102 airline companies from across the globe.
Grupo ASUR, along with partner HighStar Holdings, recently signed off on a 40-year management agreement of the Luis Muñoz Marín Airport, after submitting the winning proposal for the public-private partnership contract to operate the facility.
In prior meetings with members of the Puerto Rican media, ASUR officials said their plan is to apply to Puerto Rico the lessons learned from running the Cancún airport — which it has completely overhauled since taking it over 1999 through a P3 agreement with the Mexican government. Back then, the airport was in shambles and processed about 7 million passengers traveling on 39 tenant airlines.
Dim or inexistent lighting, dark floors, disorganized ticketing counters, and confusing terminal layouts were what both local passengers and tourists had to deal with upon arriving at the facility.
Some 12 years and $500 million in investments later — including a second landing strip and new terminal — the airport is starkly different: cleanliness, organization and friendly treatment are the first impression passengers get immediately after stepping off the plane.
For international travelers, it takes an average of 30 minutes to go through immigrations, pick up baggage and go through customs. However, there are peak days and hours where lines are impressive, despite the existence of 40 customs booths and six baggage scanners.
That inconvenience, coupled with other airport-related issues such as renegade taxi drivers and transportation companies, and day-to-day situations that come up unexpectedly, are some of the challenges with which Cancún airport officials must deal.
However, Trueba-Coll insists ASUR has a response in place to address nearly every issue.
“We have an agreement in place with immigration that establishes that each agent is expected to process a passenger every 55 seconds, so lines should be cleared within minutes,” he said. “However, at customs, we often see unnecessary lines because their people don’t manage the passenger traffic as well as they could.”
In pursuit of a well-oiled machine
That agreement is just one of the elements of Grupo ASUR’s intricate plan to run the airport that is based on communication between the airlines, concessions and other airport components, he said. The roadmap is reviewed every five years.
The expectation is that Grupo ASUR will take over managing the Luis Muñoz Marín Airport later this year, after the P3 agreement gets final approval from the Federal Aviation Administration. However, Trueba-Coll said in the meantime, Grupo ASUR is already working with airlines to understand their needs.
“We have to learn what their needs are to be able to find the general benefit for the airport’s components as well as the passengers,” he said. “There are things that they’ve told us that are very urgent, and other are not.”
Specifically, the airlines have already asked Grupo ASUR to fix bathrooms, and escalators and air conditioners that are not working, Trueba-Coll said.
The 4.8 million square-foot Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport handles some 8 million passengers annually.
“Puerto Rico has an important potential for capacity that is already there, but that requires a complete overhaul in terms of image and passenger flow,” Trueba-Coll said. “We have to improve passenger comfort and the conditions for the airlines that operate there.”