Governor inaugurates expanded departure lounge at Mercedita Airport

By The Star Staff

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia, Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón and Puerto Rico Ports Authority Executive Director Joel A. Pizá Batiz on Thursday inaugurated the expanded departure lounge at Mercedita de Ponce International Airport.

The project, which was completed at a cost of $866,252 in Ports Authority funds, expands the capacity of the departure lounge, allowing it to serve two flights simultaneously. It also includes improvements to the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) checkpoint and other areas of the airport.

“Ponce and the southern zone [of the island] are a vital part of our economy and tourism. My government is more than committed to the development of regional airports, including Mercedita in Ponce,” the governor said. “With the expansion of this departure hall, it is possible to increase the number of flights served at the same time, thus attracting more airlines and obtaining a greater flow of passengers. All this results in a boost to tourism, job creation and economic development. The development of regional airports is a priority issue in my government, and our public policy is that we use the mechanism of public-private alliances so that we can maximize the potential of each region with its particular attributes and needs.”

Also present at the announcement were Economic Development and Commerce Secretary Manuel Cidre, Transportation and Public Works Secretary Eileen Vélez, Tourism Co. Executive Director Carlos Mercado and Ponce Mayor Luis Irizarry, among others.

The resident commissioner highlighted the important role that Mercedita plays on the island and in particular for its southern residents, who have been harmed in recent years by hurricanes, earthquakes and now by the coronavirus pandemic.

“The improvements to facilities, such as this one at the Mercedita International Airport, are part of the optimization of resources necessary to make investment attractive, and to generate jobs and the flow of money, and they go hand in hand with directing Puerto Rico to become a center of air cargo, a strategy that I continue to promote from Congress with the allocations and disbursement of federal funds,” González Colón said.

Meanwhile, Pizá Batiz noted that with the expectation of resuming commercial flights that serve the island’s southern zone soon, the expanded Mercedita departure lounge makes the experience for passengers more comfortable, since it has a greater seating capacity and increases access to a greater number of sanitary facilities, as well as the number of shops available.

Pizá Batiz said that work on the project, which began six months ago and was completed on time, included the relocation of the TSA checkpoint. The new design now allows two TSA agents to process passengers and update screening equipment when deemed necessary by the federal agency.

There are also four new counters with two positions each for the use of the airlines in the waiting area, with their respective furniture for flight information monitors and support.

Likewise, several commercial spaces, including car rental companies, were relocated and new counters were built for them. Two spaces for commercial concessions were also defined within the waiting room.

“To determine the required size of the departure lounge, the guidelines of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) were used for spaces with a level of service ‘C’, which is accepted in the industry as capable of providing a good level of service at a reasonable cost,” the Ports chief said. “The design criteria used was two Airbus A321-200 airplanes, with 200 seats at 80% average occupancy.”

The project joins others that Ports has been carrying out at Mercedita for the past 36 months to improve the experience of passengers, visitors and airlines that use the airport, as well as to improve their security. Among those improvements and projects are the reconstruction of the Alpha runway, the rehabilitation of the waterproofing system of the terminal roof, the application of asphalt emulsion to the extension of Runway 12-30 and the turning area, and the underground drainage project of the Runway 12-30 extension.

Combined, those projects represent an investment that exceeds $12.8 million.

After the inauguration of the departure lounge, Pierluisi and Pizá Batiz delivered four 2021 Chevrolet Silverados to the Aviation Bureau for use at the airports in Ponce, Isla Grande, Ceiba and Aguadilla, representing an investment of $112,971.60.

With the delivery, Ports has now acquired 17 vehicles since last August to renovate the fleet in the different regions, which had not been done since 2002. The 17 units were purchased for $517,043 using funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, “Sharing” funds and Ports’ own funds.

The project was designed by the architect Manuel Goicochea of the firm MGA Consultant LLC and carried out by Comas & Comas Contractor Corp.