Ponce’s Mercedita airport ready to receive more passengers
SAN JUAN – Ponce’s Mercedita International Airport is ready to increase its passenger flow with direct flights to Puerto Rico’s southern region, it was learned Monday during public hearings carried out by the House Committee on Integrated Development for the Southern Region.
During the hearings, committee chairman Jaqueline Rodríguez Hernández questioned the Puerto Rico Tourism Co. (PRTC), represented by Miguel Quiñones, director of air and maritime access; the Ports Authority (PA), represented by legal adviser Julian Bayne; and Mercedita Airport General Manager José Riollano regarding House Resolution 133, which orders a comprehensive investigation into Ports’ development plan for the airport.
Riollano argued that the airport’s facilities are equipped to receive international and domestic flights of more than 150 passengers in planes of different capacities.
“We move an average 214,000 passengers annually. We have seasonal flights that increase depending on the time of year. Therefore, we have proved that AIM [Spanish initials for Mercedita Airport] does have the capacity to manage multiple operations,” the official said.
“The airport’s infrastructure was improved for both international and domestic passengers. It was closed for a long time, between 2004 and 2009; we couldn’t attend international flights, but we can currently manage 150 passengers simultaneously from any international destination and we hope to have more airlines for more destinations,” he added.
Meanwhile, Ports established that the runway was extended to 8,000 feet and has been available for full service since May. In addition, the airport complies with adequate security within the passenger terminal, boarding bridges and baggage claim areas, both at the international and domestic terminals.
Bayne added that last month Mercedita was visited by airport certification and security inspectors from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), who awarded it the highest evaluation of operational and administrative efficiency. The airport was recertified under Title 14, Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Part 139.
“As the public corporation in charge of overseeing Puerto Rico’s regional airports and in its capacity as AIM’s owner and operator, Ports states and reiterates its commitment to ensure that AIM’s facilities have the necessary infrastructure to continue receiving and managing a higher number of flights and passengers,” Bayne said.
However, the PRTC said that to expand AIM’s offering, Ponce needs to be developed as an attractive tourism destination that meets passenger expectations.
“In that regard, we believe the restructuring process that will take effect after the approval of Act 17 of 2017, which established the Destination Marketing Organization, will promote the destination beyond the metro area and allow to expand the offering to the southern region once this area is developed and establishes a touristic product,” Quiñones said.
Rodríguez Hernández assured that after a visual inspection of the airport’s facilities, he concluded they are “pretty up-to-date,” but noted that some outside areas need to be renovated. Bayne explained that as early as June, renovations that include painting the exterior facade and other aesthetic changes will be implemented.
In its exposition of motives, H.R. 133 states that the investigation emerged after a group of residents requested daytime flights from AIM and to expand the airport’s services. However, the officials didn’t discuss if the airport’s operations could become part of a public-private partnership.