Uruguayan airport hub symbolises a new internationalism

Posted: 28 March 2008 | Martin Eurnekian. Director General, Puerta del Sur S.A. | No comments yet

The new terminal is a reflection of rapid regional and global integration, spurred by a burgeoning economy and developing tourism.

The new terminal is a reflection of rapid regional and global integration, spurred by a burgeoning economy and developing tourism.

Uruguay is a small South American nation of just 3.4 million people, nestled between Brazil and Argentina. Its Carrasco International Airport (Aeropuerto Internacional de Carrasco-AIC), sited 18 kilometres from downtown Montevideo, currently serves approximately 1.2 million passengers annually, and is the only airport in the country providing year-round direct international flights or connections. It carries great symbolic value as the ‘front door’ for many visitors to the country.

As Uruguay’s economy expands, inflation decreases, unemployment declines, and GDP rises, all signs indicate the country is poised for rapid growth in tourism. Last October, the beginning of the Uruguayan summer, the nation’s Tourism Ministry announced that it expected a record-breaking season of tourist expenditure at US $700 million, fuelled significantly by the country‘s budding reputation as a resort destination.

A new terminal at Carrasco International Airport, designed by renowned native son Rafael Viñoly, is currently under construction and scheduled for completion in early 2009. It comprises a terminal building, an aircraft platform, and infrastructure designed to expand capacity to an expected 2.8 million passengers by 2010. This will instigate commercial growth and tourism in the surrounding region. With a total investment of US $134 million, AIC will become an international intermodal transport centre, featuring world-class architecture, infrastructure and service efficiency, destined to compete with the world’s other leading airports.

The new expansion

Located to the east of the existing terminal, the linear morphology of Viñoly’s new 32,000 square metre terminal is not only ideally suited to predicted increases in traveller traffic, but it also allows for future expansion. Featuring eight passenger gates, it also conforms to the newest international security requirements, rated ‘Category C’ by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

The structure provides two independent and differentiated levels for passengers, one for arrivals (on the ground floor) and one for departures (on the first floor). This will provide easy flow for passengers and visitors and will eliminate the need for passengers to walk up and down stairs carrying heavy luggage. Arriving travellers will pass through a fully glazed mezzanine level that will help orient them to the terminal space, before they descend to the baggage claim and other services. In the arrival areas, three conveyor belts will deliver baggage to owners. The departure area will house a handling system, with automatic conveyor belts, that will take baggage from the check-in area to the departures baggage area.

The building will feature differentiated road accesses for arrivals and departures, and ample sidewalks will provide space for the embarking and disembarking of passengers from cars, taxis and buses. This program element also includes parking spaces and autonomous access from the highway that connects with Montevideo and the eastern beaches, among them the famous resort of Punta del Este.

A new aircraft platform is also being built, to allow the embarking and disembarking of passengers through four air bridges directly into the building. Additionally, a new cargo terminal previewed in the works plan will facilitate imports and exports, strengthening the airport’s execution project. The cargo building is located next to runway 06-24 toward the south east of the site, oriented to enable future expansion in both directions.

A pipe network is being laid underneath the new ten-hectare concrete platform, to channel fuel for aircraft. It will feed into refuelling points, ending the need for fuel lorries to drive around the platform to refill the planes’ tanks.

Approximately 800 builders have been involved in the construction of the new terminal. The work features 4,000 tons of steel, which was handled by two mammoth cranes weighing 300 and 350 tons respectively. These had to be sourced from neighbouring Argentina.


From a spatial and symbolic point of view, Viñoly’s design for the new terminal seeks to create an architectural icon by which Uruguay will be identified and recognised globally. The awe-inspiring 300 metre long roof features a double curvature that extends over the length of the building, extending beyond its sides to rest gently on the ground. Its structure is supported by an articulated system of structural elements that border the building’s perimeter and support the glass façade. The structure covers the departure area spaces, the check-in hall, and an interior terrace housing commercial and recreational activities.

Viñoly envisioned the new terminal as a facility for visitors as well as travellers, providing adequate space to accommodate the local custom of greeting and saying farewell to family and friends. The design places great emphasis on its public zones and amenities, providing these areas with an abundance of open space and natural light. The roof features 28 strategically located circular skylights, lending additional natural light to the public spaces.

An open atrium adjacent to the street entrance opens the ground floor to the monumental space of the main hall, visually and spatially linking the beginning and ending stages of a traveller’s journey. The public landscaped terrace and a restaurant occupy the second floor just above the departures level, providing a space in which passengers can relax and enjoy sweeping views of the runway and the main concourse.

Expansion history

AIC was inaugurated in 1947, and since its inception substantial investments have been made to provide infrastructure, equipment, and installations that meet the demands of travellers and airlines, as well as international regulations.

To address increasing requirements, in 1996 a project known as URU/94/003, which involved modernising and fitting the transit area of the existing Carrasco terminal, was extended. The masterplan would include the works necessary for expansion, from 2000 to 2020, under a concession model revised in 2000 for a 10-year period. The concession was given to Puerta del Sur S.A., a body created by the Uruguayan Government, which is the current administrator of the airport.

In November 2003, Puerta del Sur S.A. took charge of the administration, operation, construction, and maintenance of AIC, charged with the goal of auctioning the totality of the airport shares to a private operator, which would then run AIC for a period of 20 years, extendable for ten more. After an intense auctioning process, Cerealsur S.A., a consortium comprising Argentinian investors including Grupo Eurnekian (which operates 37 airports), American International Airports, and the Italian airport operator Grupo Sea, bought the full package of shares for US $34 million.

Immediately, the new consortium undertook the development and execution of an improvement strategy. Works started in April 2004 and were completed at the beginning of 2005. The general improvements plan included; the refurbishment of the existing terminal’s central, departures, and arrivals halls, the installation of an air bridge for passenger access to aircrafts, renovations to the boarding room, parking site, and the cargo terminal. The conditions of the concession also involved the repaving and lighting of the main runway, which started in 2005 and was completed in 2006, requiring an investment of US $16 million.

In addition to these immediate improvements, Puerta del Sur S.A. was requested to present a masterplan outlining the long-term strategy of the company. The document included the construction of a new terminal for passengers and a new cargo terminal.

Puerta del Sur S.A. could have opted for a more economical new terminal and redirected the savings elsewhere within the company, but the goal was clear from the beginning: Carrasco’s airport was to become a landmark, state-of-the-art hub, that would benefit not only Uruguay, but the entire surrounding region.

The future of the existing terminal

As construction proceeded on the new terminal, the existing building received an investment of over US $5 million in renovations and improvements. The arrivals and departures halls, as well as the departures gate lounge and the baggage claim areas, have been remodelled to provide passengers and other visitors with comfortable facilities.

The airport now offers; new duty-free shops, restaurants, coffee shops, shopping areas, and a gourmet restaurant with panoramic views of planes taking off and landing.

Its future use however, has yet to be determined. One possible proposal is that the building be transformed into a centre for events and conventions. A similar transformation has been made at Guayaquil Airport in Ecuador (also operated by Puerta del Sur S.A.), in which the redundant facilities were successfully transformed into an extremely successful year-round convention centre. Promising talks with the Montevidean authorities on the future of Carrasco’s terminal started in February.

Puerta del Sur S.A. has also recently won the concession of the airport of Punta del Este, the up-and-coming area in the southern part of country, which will see the company investing in another project in Uruguay – effectively placing Puerta del Sur S.A. at another entry gate to the country, further allowing it to promote Uruguay as an international tourist destination.

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