ONE FLEW OVER THE WHISTLING-DUCK’S NEST

Costa Rica 2017 | TRANSPORT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Rafael Mencía, CEO of Aeris, on master plans, capacity duplication, and regional integration.

Rafael Mencía
BIOGRAPHY
Rafael Mencía is the CEO of Aeris Holdings Costa Rica. He has a degree in economics from the University of Puerto Rico. He was the Director of Finance and Administration at Aeris from 2009-2011. In 2012 he was promoted to CEO. He previously served as Director of Finance and Administration of Aeropuertos Dominicanos Siglo XXI (Aerodom) from 2000 to 2008. His experience in PPPs began in 1986 when was appointed Finance and Administration Manager for the Shell Co. West Indies. Mencía also has extensive experience in the banking sector.

How would you evaluate Aeris' operations in Costa Rica so far?

We are a small airport in Central America, surrounded by a stable growing economy and a safe investment environment, which resulted in our investors being able to obtain the concession from the World Bank and make an agreement with the government of Costa Rica. We entered into an 18-month remediation plan, and in that time we invested more than USD50 million to bring the infrastructure up to date. We also agreed to update a master plan for the future development of the airport, which we originally delivered in 2011. It was intensive work from June 2009 through to 2011. Since then, we have been successful not only in building and expanding the airport, but also in bringing in more airlines.

After investing USD19 million into the expansion of the airport in 2015, does Aeris have any new investment plans?

We agreed in November with the government and the civil aviation authority to develop the public infrastructure of this particular airport, as there are still extensive amounts of work to be done, in both areas; the terminal facilities and the airfield side. There are several important works to improve the infrastructure. We have to find consensus with the government in relation to the need to move the firefighters from their present location. This perhaps does not seem like a major change, but it will allow us to continue to grow the terminal to the west. Most people do not see it, but we have a lot of companies, people, and equipment for transporting baggage from the aircraft to the inspection site in order to ensure that passengers are able to find their baggage after clearing border control. We are going to duplicate the capacity in this respect.

What is your strategy for improving the number of connections to Costa Rica and attracting more companies to operate here?

We have regular meetings with the Minister of Tourism to coordinate with him and his people, who see national development on a broader level than us; we look at our airport, while they consider the whole country. Many of these ideas have naturally come into place, while others come from our international contacts. We normally have a company of international advisors working on route developments that provide ideas and data on passenger movements. In some cases, we have begun providing incentives, particularly for encouraging airlines to come.

The airport's passenger count has grown steadily every year, with 3.9 million passengers passing through in 2015. What are your projections for the rest of this year and into 2017?

In 2016, we are growing 12.5% more than last year, which is the highest growth rate we have ever had. We should end with almost 4.2 million passengers. The expectation for next year is high, as we have new flights with Air France starting in November. We also have the initiative of Volaris coming to San Jose and doing what is named Volaris CAM, which will base it out of here. We have invested around USD16 million this year in expanding the parking capacity of the airport, and one of the reasons is that many airlines have decided to have overnight layovers in San José. We have a lot of overnight parking; however, now we also have to be prepared for the Volaris project. Volaris is already flying here from Cancun and Guadalajara, and it is in the final stages of doing Volaris Central America, which will see its base established in Costa Rica.