The government may be scouting for a private company to operate the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in Carolina, but while that happens it is moving forward with some $40 million in improvement projects that are either near completion or will go up for bids in coming weeks.
The Federal Aviation Administration will foot 75 percent of the investment, making the government responsible for putting up the remaining $10 million, LMM General Manager Arnaldo Deleo told News is my Business Monday.
The development pipeline adds to several projects that will wrap up in coming months to address security and infrastructure issues at Puerto Rico’s main air transportation facility, Deleo said.
The list of work already underway includes the $500,000 improvement of the staircases at the multi-level parking garage, which have deteriorated due to weather and saltpeter coming from the Atlantic just north of the airport, he said.
“We’ve already finished refurbishing two sets of stairs and should be done with the remaining five by year’s end,” said Deleo.
Meanwhile, the airport administration should complete the relocation of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s inspection facilities formerly operating on the sidewalk entrance of the American Airlines terminal. At a cost of $107,000, the X-ray machines are being set up inside the building and should be ready by March, he said.
Also wrapping up soon is an FAA overhaul of the LMM’s landing navigation system, for which it has installed ground antennas and other equipment at a cost of $1 million. The Medium Intensity Approach Lighting System with Runway Alignment Indicator Lights, known as MALSR, is normally installed in airport runway approach zones along the extended centerline of the runway to provide visual information to pilots on runway alignment, height perception, role guidance, and horizontal reference.
“The new system is almost ready, and once operational, it will completely modernize the system we had in place,” Deleo said.
But the largest project already on track is the resurfacing of the 2,000-foot taxiway connecting the airport’s two runways being done in three phases. The $1.5 million task should also be finished by March.
Significant work ahead
Also up for resurfacing is the 7,000-foot taxiway that runs parallel to LMM’s Runway 8, the longest of the airport’s two landing strips. The $9 million project will begin soon and construction should last a year.
“All of the aircraft taking off from Runway 8 must use that taxiway, which right now has problems with potholes and other issues that we need to address. We need to be careful with the planes that use that taxiway, so it must be fixed,” he said.
The Ports Authority, which owns and manages the airport, also plans to extend that runway by about 800 feet, at a cost of $8 million. That project will go up for bids next month, and should be completed in a year, “to improve the safety area,” of the runway parallel to Los Gobernadores Avenue in Isla Verde, Deleo said.
Another project in the works for that side of the airport calls for pruning the pine trees that line the runway, which have exceeded the 50-foot height limit allowed by the FAA. Deleo said the trees will be cut down to 40 feet over the next three or four months, at a cost of $600,000.
“We’re not eliminating them, just pruning them. For that, we have the permits in place from the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources,” he noted.
On the other side of the airport, along Baldorioty de Castro Avenue, the Port Authority is overseeing the construction of a $7 million project to build hangar facilities for smaller aviation companies. The project has been under development for the past eight months.
“We’ve had to secure local and federal permits to do this, but by May, we should be able to offer hangar space as big as 5,000 square feet, of which we can probably set up seven spaces, or make them bigger and fewer if that’s what’s needed,” Deleo said, noting that there are several would-be tenants that have expressed an interest in the new facilities, but no negotiations are taking place yet.
The Ports Authority also plans to replace the fencing that encloses the airport facility and its two checkpoints, at a cost of $8 million. That project will go up for bids next month and should be done by 2013.
Inside the airport, the agency plans to replace five jet bridges in use at Terminal B that were built in 1989 at a cost of between $2 million and $2.5 million, he said. Construction starts next month and will be completed in phases, replacing one jet bridge at a time. Ports will open another bid to repair the airport’s roofing, which is still in the design stage. The estimated cost for that job is $1.6 million, Deleo said.
Business as usual
Deleo’s extensive “to-do” list includes a number of tasks that the Public Private Partnership Authority heading the LMM’s quest for a private operator had outlined as examples of the immediate capital improvements required as part of the deal.
But Port Authority Executive Director Bernardo Vázquez said the plan is to move forward with all of the work needed at the airport, which will add value to the property.
“When the new operator sees that we’re undertaking all of these improvements, they will see a facility with greater value,” he said. “We’re going to continue with the projects and improving the airport’s conditions, which we will pass on to the operator once the transaction is completed.”
The government is about halfway through the PPP process, which must ultimately gain the FAA’s approval. The plan calls for granting a 50-year management concession to a private operator that will be required to invest between $40 million and $80 million in “immediate improvements” during the first five years of the contract.