Tocumen International Airport
Tocumen International Airport provides gateway service to the country of Panama as the primary international airport of the region. Specifically, the airport serves Panama City and is known by the airport code PTY. However, through its service as a hub, it provides air service to the entire region of Central America.
History of the Airport
Air operations began in the area during the early days of World War II when the U.S. Army Air Force constructed bases to protect the Panama Canal from attack. The current facility was opened for civilian commercial air traffic in 1947 with a terminal opened in 1954. This original terminal building is still utilized as a cargo facility. The airport facility has undergone a number of upgrades and enhancements over the years although its record of maintenance was somewhat sketchy during some periods.
One of the recent expansions improved the current Terminal 1 passenger facility. The 2006 project added boarding bridges increasing the number of gates at the airport to 28. The terminal also improved passenger amenities with better lounges and steps to improve the efficiency with which passengers can be moved through the airport. An addition of a second terminal, known as Terminal 2, in 2012 more than doubled passenger capacity with 12 new boarding gates. This new terminal also includes gates designed to handle the large Airbus 380 as well as the Boeing 747. The 2012 terminal expansion increased capacity to about 10 million passengers per year allowing for growth from its current 5 million passenger per year level. Other recent upgrades have included improvements to the baggage handling system and air traffic control.
Tocumen Airport Operations
The runways at Tocumen International Airport are one of the key reasons the airport serves such a vital role in the region’s air service industry. The airport is one of a limited number in Central America to provide two runways and have capacity to handle the wide-bodied aircraft. The primary runway is about 3,000 meters or 10,000 feet long with no aircraft size limitations. This runway is equipped with an instrument landing system. The secondary runway is about 300 meters shorter and is not ILS equipped. The secondary runway primarily serves cargo and general aviation.
Upgrades to the cargo terminal have also improved that segment of the airports operations. The cargo terminal is actually the first passenger terminal building constructed in 1947 and houses standard airfreight operations as well as an express center. The cargo terminal area is equipped to handle aircraft up to the size of a Boeing 747 and provides customs service around the clock. Future plans include a new airfreight warehouse building and further improvements to the cargo terminal.
The airports ability to accommodate larger aircraft has made it a regional hub for operations in Central America. With more than 5 million passengers passing through its gates each year it is the busiest in Central America and is anticipated to continue to see growth into the future.
Past expansions of the airports physical footprint have involved leveling land and rerouting the Tocumen River. Any additional runway projects may encounter those types of issues again. With the airports recent expansions complete, it may not be contemplating any further expansions for a number of years.