The saying goes that a photograph is worth a thousand words and in the case of the José María Córdova International Airport, in Rionegro, it fits just right. At the air terminal the lines have become endless during peak hours. Check-in lines for domestic and international flights stretch from end to end and, at other times, surround the airport. A fact portrays what is happening: the projection of passenger movement for the end of this year is 13 million, when the capacity is 11 million.
The testimonies of local merchants are a good indicator to review the problem: “The lines reach outside, they go around the airport. Other times they go to Avianca, six locations beyond national income. On weekends this gets to bursting “, says Mariana Garzón, who has been working at the terminal for more than a year.
But the perception is not only of the businesses, Fredy Jaramillo, manager of the airport, delivers the x-ray: “The growth compared to 2019 is 40%. That year we closed with nine million passengers and this year, on December 31, we will close with 13 million. There is a bit of slack on the international side, but on domestic flights it doesn’t give us more: one sees passengers sitting in the corridors and long lines at the filters”, he affirms.
There are neuralgic points: check-in areas, security areas and waiting rooms that, in the words of the manager, are collapsing. The international travel arrival zone also suffers from refugees: the airport, Jaramillo maintains, does not have enough personnel from Migración Colombia. The chaos in the midst of peak hours has slowed down the operation, confirms Silvia Henao, a merchant at the entrance of international flights.
Demand continues to grow
EL COLOMBIANO accompanied the rush hour in the mornings at the air terminal. Around 5:30 am the airport begins to fill up. At 6:00, in the case of income for domestic flights, lines surround the terminal.
“Everything has been very slow. A lot of people and that I did the check-in digital. Every one who traveled is like this”, says Geraldine Jacome, who tries to board her flight to Bogotá. The same perception has Rigoberto Gaviria, who has the same fate: “I haven’t had any problems, but this lives very full. I’m already used to it”.
The photograph is extended on weekends, says Garzón, who affirms that the national peak hours are between 4:00 am and 7:00 am and noon. “The crowd is impressive. To be international, it needs to be bigger,” he says. The manager Jaramillo supports the opinion. The monthly average of national passengers reaches 900,000, with about 35,000 daily. In the case of international flights, he details, there were 5,000 passengers a day in 2019. Now, in “cold” months, the figure reaches 9,000 travelers, while on peak dates it is close to 11,000.
“Between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. there is congestion at the international exit. And at night, from 9:00 pm to 1:00 am, it is endless. Passengers have increased a lot after the pandemic. And on arrival, the problem is greater because of what has been happening with Immigration,” says Henao.
Lack of Migration staff
Given the infrastructure afugias that the airport is beginning to feel, according to Jaramillo, the shortage of Immigration personnel is added. There are quite a few images that these days have portrayed the mess that is armed there. “Migration continues with the same plant. They have been working with nine people on passport stamping. They combine technology, with entry and exit machines, but it is not enough”, he says.
It turns out that in this area of the airport about 20 Immigration officials are needed so that the operation is not affected. What they have expressed on the matter from Foreign Affairs is that the lines “are due to the simultaneous arrival of flights (…)”.
In the first week of this month, between 6:00 pm and 9:00 pm, Migration says that 1,200 passengers arrived in an area that only supports 350. “We analyzed the situation of simultaneous flight arrivals with the airport operator to see if it is possible to distribute them throughout the day”, they have expressed. According to the entity, there are ten officers and three biometric registration machines that they have there.
The dimension, however, is distorted by Jaramillo. He maintains that it is not possible to readjust the hours because it would impact the connections. And he adds: “Although we are working on solutions, we need a second terminal and another runway to meet the demand.”
What’s the expansion?
When thought in 2016, the second runway and the new terminal were going to be needed in 2033, however, the rapid growth in demand after the pandemic reduced that gap by five years. Of course, today’s outlook shows that enlargement is too late for tomorrow. In July, a table was structured with the regional and national authorities that decided to update the 2016 master plan, as a first step to know how many properties are required for sure. But you need a ticket from the Nation.
Governor Aníbal Gaviria made a call to President Gustavo Petro last Thursday at the exporters’ congress to prioritize the expansion of the airport. “If we don’t make prompt decisions, we are interrupting a development that is taking place,” he assured.