• The Star Staff

FEMA grants $2.5 million for initial phase of power system upgrade at LMM airport

By The Star Staff

The Puerto Rico Ports Authority, which is responsible for Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, will receive more than $2.5 million under Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Hazard Mitigation Grant Program for a power system, the federal agency announced in a statement Sunday.

The funds are for the proposed design and installation of a combined heat and power generation system at the facility that will increase redundancy and reduce service interruptions at the largest international travel hub in the Caribbean, which in 2019 received some 9.2 million passengers.

Beyond the initial design phase, the completed project may include additional funding for construction costs, which will total an estimated $57 million.

Likewise, the completed project will also allow the airport to operate for seven days at 90 percent capacity in the event of an atmospheric event or other emergency that may cause power failure, the agency said.

“The international airport is an essential part of the local economy, which also connects residents of Puerto Rico with their families and loved ones living abroad,” said Alex Amparo, the federal disaster recovery coordinator for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. “Ensuring that this link is not affected is what inspires us to continue our mission of strategically strengthening the island.”

The cogeneration equipment that is part of this first planning phase will operate along with the existing power grid. Engineering designs, electrical studies and permitting will be done in compliance with environmental and safety requirements during this initial period.

“Because we are an island, maintaining the operation of the main airport after an emergency is a high-priority project for the Authority,” said Ports Authority Executive Director Joel A. Pizá Batiz. “We are grateful to FEMA for this important funding allocation, which will allow for the reimbursement of the first phase of the project that consists of the study and design aspect.”

Ottmar Chávez, executive director of the Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction and Resilience, stated that “mitigation projects are a fundamental part of the process of rebuilding Puerto Rico.”

“Impacting critical structures and services raises the level of preparedness for future events,” he said.

Aerostar increasing airline fees

The news comes after Aerostar Holdings informed airlines a month ago that it was going to increase airline fees until December even though the airport was assigned a $33.4 million subsidy for its operations under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Aerostar Holdings called for an increase in airport fees because of a reduction in the volume of passengers as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The matter was discussed at a recent Ports Authority board meeting after Tourism Co. Director Carla Campos expressed concerns that the hikes could delay the recovery of the tourism sector and put in jeopardy the volume of flights coming to Puerto Rico.

Airport fees paid by the airlines are divided pro rata based on the number of passengers and other factors. These funds are used to pay for the maintenance of airport facilities and help the operator cover its expenses.

Aerostar Holdings opted to increase airline fees as it must generate $60 million to make ends meet.

The fee increases are 91 percent for domestic flights, 78 percent for international flights and 29 percent for landing fees, but the exact amount of the fees varies. The decision comes at a time when airlines are facing a complicated fiscal panorama because of the crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.