TBY talks to Andrew O'Brien, President & CEO of Corporación Quiport S.A., on the technical challenges of the new airport in Quito, its performance to date, and necessary improvements for the future.

Andrew O’Brien
Andrew O’Brien holds an MBA with a specialization in Aviation from the John Molson School of Business at Concordia University in Montreal, a Diploma in International Management from Capilano University, and a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Victoria in British Columbia. O´Brien is currently the CEO of Corporación Quiport S.A., having started his tenure as Vice President and COO in April 2012. Formerly, he was Chief Executive Officer of AERODOM in the Dominican Republic, and Director of Operations for Vancouver Airport Services (YVRAS). O’Brian has been a member of several international aviation associations, such as the Airport Council International (ACI), among others. He is currently First Vice-President of the Ecuadorean-Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Quito.

What were the technical challenges facing the construction of the new airport in Quito?

Geography is an issue. It was a challenge for the engineers to find a place for the airport close enough to Quito, but also far enough away for urban planning concerns, not to mention the challenge of finding a place to build a 4,100 meter runway, one of the longest in South America. To be able to shoehorn this kind of cutting-edge, modern airport design into this plateau, while at the same time ensuring that it abides by all criteria to render it a safe and efficient facility, was a big challenge, and amazing to achieve. Pilots have a very flat and calm approach when landing with the wind on the nose of the plane, which is ideal. The airport has a high-speed exit taxiway too, which means you have plenty of time to brake and slow down. All in all, design wise and engineering wise, the new airport is great. There have been concerns raised about crosswinds, but we don't think it is an issue. There is plenty of runway to safely operate the aircraft. At the old airport, there were more than 10 major incidents and accidents, as well as minor ones. In this new airport, we have a tremendous safety record. That was by far our primary concern. We have removed the risk factor of flying into Quito by applying very modern engineering. We also have future plans to expand the airport, which is easier to do. At this altitude, with the thinner air, it is harder to take off and land an aircraft. By extending the runway, providing rapid exit taxiways, implementing very modern air-traffic control systems and a control tower, as well as introducing Instrument Landing Systems (ILS) for both runways, we have taken the necessary measures to ensure that crosswinds are not a factor. Aircraft can land either from the south or north, depending on the wind conditions.

How much was invested in the new airport?

We have invested around $700 million. We had an Engineering Procurement Construction (EPC) contract with the municipality, which is like a turnkey contract. It means that when we contracted the project out to the Canadian and Brazilian construction firms that built the airport, everything was included; design, engineering, and architecture. The EPC contract is different from unit price contracts. According to the contract, they are going to give us a certifiable and safe airport, and then just hand us the figurative key.

What is the airport's maximum capacity?

The maximum capacity is for 45 aircraft parking positions, and over 5 million passengers per year. The number of employees at Quiport is 400. The airport is designed as a comprehensive system from landing to when the passenger gets in their cab. We will observe the airport in the first year to check for any bottlenecks or challenges, and then make adjustments, expansions, and improvements as required. Depending on how growth proceeds, and what the estimates for growth are, which we expect to be at around 10% within the first year, we will make adjustments to expand in anticipation of future growth. Usually, you can forecast airline passenger growth based on a country's GDP growth. These estimates will also enable us to add new routes and destinations. Cargo transportation is also a huge business here, and we are taking measures to facilitate large volumes. Ecuador is the world's third largest exporter of flowers, for example. We are building a consolidation facility, which should be finished by May 2013. Hundreds of trucks can bring tons of flowers a day, which can be kept fresh, cool, and safe, before being prepared and placed in boxes ready to be flown out. The old airport had many bodegas, which were very disorganized. We have completely transformed that. The consolidation facility wasn't a part of the turnkey project; it was a value-added project we undertook with Darby Private Equity, at a price of $23 million. All in all, Quiport is a very important project for Ecuador; it is effectively a window on the world. It is not just an airport. We work very closely with the municipality and the city, because an airport should fit into the overall transit and transport system of a city. The municipality and the federal government are working hard to help improve and expand access to the airport through new highways and traffic projects.