Juan Santamaría International Airport
Juan Santamaria International Airport, also known by the airport code SJO, provides air service to the San Jose region of Costa Rica. Its the predominant international airport in the country and continues to serve as a gateway for foreign visitors to Costa Rica.
History of the Airport
The airport was named in honor of a national hero of the 19th century. Juan Santamaria was killed while serving as a drummer boy in the nation’s war against a private American interest attempting to establish its own government in the region.
Construction of the airport began in 1951 as a replacement for a smaller airport in San Jose. Flight operations began in 1958 with construction on infrastructure around the airport incomplete. The airport underwent its first major upgrades in 1997 although political and financial problems plagued the airports operations and upgrades. This lead to a 2005 ruling by the International Civil Aviation Organization that the airport did not meet safety standards.
Changes to the operating company have moved things forward at Juan Santamaria International Airport. The airport now meets safety standards and has completed several major expansions in recent years. The Airports Council International awarded the airport a third place in 2011 under the category “Best Airport in Latin America/Caribbean.” The Airports Council International bases its ratings on interviews with passengers who have used the airport.
Juan Santamaria International Airport sees about 4 million passengers pass through its gates each year. This makes it the second most active airport in Central America. The airports Main Terminal handles most passenger traffic and provides about 15 gates for boardings and arrivals. The terminal operates what is referred to as a VIP lounge, which is available to all passengers for a fee. A secondary terminal, known as the Sansa Terminal serves regional and domestic passengers utilizing smaller aircraft.
Future expansion at the airport will be funded by a departure fee charged at the airport. This fee is not included in the ticket price and can be paid upon arrival at the airport or in advance at most hotels in San Jose.
Airport Operations at Juan Santamaria Airport
Juan Santamaria International Airport offers a single runway of about 3,000 meters or 10,000 feet. This runway accommodates most of the wide-bodied commercial aircraft including the Boeing 747. This makes the airport a popular hub for carriers operating to Central American, South American, and Caribbean destinations. The runway is equipped with lighting and instrument landing systems and is held operational around the clock.
Even with recent expansions, Juan Santamaria International Airport is operating near capacity. Further upgrades are contemplated but appear to only be in the early planning stages. Some of the identified problem areas include the number of aircraft stands or parking spaces, the ability to handle the passenger numbers present at peak times and baggage handling. Other studies have identified security and crowd control as issues. Possible solutions have included upgrades to the existing facility or a more radical plan to totally replace the airport with a new facility at a different location. Costa Rican officials suggest that whatever decision is made, it needs to be in place by 2025 to maintain air service to the region.