It has been a significant decade for the small island of Curaçao in the southern Caribbean Sea, off the Venezuelan coast. Up until October 2010 the country was one of five island territories in the Netherlands Antilles but after the administration was dissolved it has become a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and now has full autonomy on most political matters. This includes overseeing an exciting project to develop an Airport City concept on the island which in the past few weeks has taken a significant step forward after expressions of interest were requested to support the development of a Comprehensive Infrastructure Plan (CIP) for the project.
Early in its history, Curaçao's economy was centered around salt mining from saline-rich ponds located in the eastern part of the island but in the early 20th century, discovery of oil off the Venezuelan coast led major oil companies to invest in the region and from the 1920s, oil refining became a key part of the island's economy, representing nearly 90 per cent of its exports.
Curaçao has one of the highest standards of living in the Caribbean, ranking 46th in the world in terms of GDP (PPP) per capita and 28th in the world in terms of nominal GDP per capita. The island has a well-developed infrastructure that is centered around tourism and financial services, while shipping, international trade, oil refining, and other activities related to the port of Willemstad (like the Free Trade Zone) also make a significant contribution to the economy.
The Curaçao Government has an aim to make its economy more diverse and efforts are being made to attract more foreign investment under its ‘Open Arms’ policy and the Airport City concept will play a key role in fulfilling this plan. After years in the planning, Curaçao Airport Holding, the company responsible for managing the operation of the country’s Hato International Airport, has officially launched a tender associated to the development of a comprehensive infrastructure plan for the new Curaçao Airport City and has invited planning consultants to submit an Expression of Interest to assist with the development of the plan.
Although the island of Curaçao is small, its main international air transport gateway is not. Hato International Airport is home to the second longest commercial runway in the Caribbean region and a perfect asset to develop the facility as a major hub in the region. Speaking to fellow UBM Routes company, Airport Cities, Simon Kloppenburg, Advisor Airport Development, Curaçao Airport Holding, described Curaçao as the “safe hub for Latin America”.
“Curaçao is a diverse, safe and increasingly sophisticated location for business and leisure, serving the growing (northern) Latin American market and figuring as a connection point towards North America and parts of Europe. It is expected that the airport of Curaçao will grow quickly, transforming into one of the main arteries through which cargo and passengers from Europe and North America reach the Southern Hemisphere and vice versa,” he added.
Curaçao Airport Holding believes that alongside facilitating the growth in tourism to Curaçao, Hato International Airport can act as a transit point for air services in the region, enhancing connectivity across the Americas and even into other Continents. With a limited home market the company believes it needs to grow the Airport City concept to ensure it has a flexible model to meet future growth and potentially become the hub of choice in the Caribbean.
According to its tender documentation it is seeking partners to plan a number of infrastructure projects, including but not limited to zoning, roads, trajectory and dimensioning of utilities, accessibility control and emergency management provisions. It has set a deadline of 17:00hrs (Curaçao Local Time) on Friday, August 9, 2013 for these expressions and after which it will release a shortlist of qualifying submissions and extend invitations for final bidding.
The bidding process for the CIP is the first step in the realisation of the new state-of-the-art Airport City as a safe and sustainable gateway in the Pan-American region. Curaçao Airport Holding hopes to develop Hato International Airport and its surroundings into a sophisticated service hub, offering green, high-tech and innovative products and services.
It will be the first 100 per cent self-sufficient green energy based airport in the region, featuring such innovations as Salt Water Air Conditioning distribution network, Waste to Energy and Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion for generation of electricity, environment and conservation reservation with land-wide infrastructure plans and socio-economic impact on surrounding urban areas, with the highest level of green and sustainable consciousness.
The Master Plan for the Airport City (CAC) involves development of 450 hectares of land for considerable expansion of the existing airport services and the addition of a new university, housing, hotels, showrooms & warehouses, a spaceport and eco-, aqua- and agriculture industries.
To create the proper conditions for development, the necessary infrastructure needs to be laid down first and this process, based on the programmed needs, is an important step to reaching Curaçao Airport Holding’s objectives. In this tender, the company says it searching for a party “most suitable” in creating a development plan and that interested consultants “should have” international experience in planning of infrastructure, and “must be willing to work in close cooperation with a local expert in infrastructure planning”.
Alongside a comprehensive network of flights within the Caribbean, Curaçao currently has some key connectivity to North America and Europe. American Airlines offers flights to Miami and United Airlines to Newark, while Air Canada, Sunwing Airlines, Thomas Cook Airlines Canada and WestJet Airlines offer seasonal links to Toronto. Across the Atlantic, KLM provides a link to Amsterdam and airberlin a service to Dusseldorf, while Blue Panorama Airlines has a seasonal connection to Milan.
A recent survey by Virtual Curaçao on behalf of Curaçao Airport Holding estimated that the annual impact of the airberlin service to/from Dusseldorf was worth $22.7 million to the Curaçao economy, including direct benefits of $14.4 million and an indirect impact of $8.3 million. This will certainly act as a motive to secure additional network connections in the future.
For more information on the invitation for Expression of Interest for the development of the comprehensive infrastructure plan for the new Curaçao Airport City, please visit the Curaçao Airport Holding's website here.