By Leo Byrne, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The government wants to expand and modernize Rio de Janeiro’s Galeão–Antonio Carlos Jobim International (GIG) airport, increasing its capacity from 15 million to 70 million passengers a year. Currently the second busiest airport in the country, GIG is already overstretched with an estimated 20.3 million visitors passing through each year.
In December President Dilma Rouseff announced the “Investment Programme in Logistics: Airports” initiative. The program earmarked R$7.3 billion for infrastructure improvements to Brazil’s airport sector.
“The inclusion of touristic destinations in the plan reinforces the initiatives that the Brazilian government has adopted to boost the competitiveness of national tourism,” tourist minister Gastão Vieira said on his website concerning the program.
Such a figure when divided among 270 projects is likely to be a drop in the ocean of the investment required to bring Galeão to its goal however. The government estimates that the aging airport will need at least R$6.6 billion of initial funding.
Consequently, it was announced that the government would hold an auction in September of this year, for the rights to operate Galeão. According to a report by Bloomberg, only the twenty largest airport operators will be considered. The government plans to enforce this stipulation by only allowing operators with experience managing over 35 million passengers to bid.
“[We] are determined to hand over operation of the airport to a major foreign operator. One that can implement sophisticated technology, simplify operations and who has experience with productivity and providing quality of service,” the minister of the Department of Civil Aviation (SAC), Moreira Franco told O Globo.
“The airport creates the first impression that tourists have. You need to guarantee users a quality system and price. You have to have security, agility, quick service, and access to luggage,” Franco continued.
However, with only nine months between the auction and the start of the FIFA World Cup in June 2014, the chances of seeing any improvements to Galeão from the private sector are low.
It is instead likely that the development will occur in stages. The Brazilian government corporation Infraero, which currently owns a 49 percent share in the airport’s operation, will foot the bill for the first round of renovations.
Infraero is slated to carry out and complete renovations to both terminals one and two. The gates and runways are also scheduled for improvements before the end of 2014. It is hoped that this first round of renovations will increase the airport’s passenger capacity to 43 million passengers a year.
The improvements will be welcomed as increasing numbers of tourists arrive every day. “I thought the airport was pretty lackluster. The baggage claim especially felt creaky and the clamoring taxi drivers outside gave it a ‘Wild West’ feel,” recently arrived tourist Philip Brady told The Rio Times.
Many of the country’s airports have already been privatized. Last year Brazil’s government sold the operating licenses to Brasília, Viracopos, and Guarulhos for R$24 billion, five times the minimum required amount.