By Suzanna Lourie
TAMARINDO, Guanacaste – Air traffic to and from the Guanacaste beach town of Tamarindo has been temporarily suspended due to growing safety concerns regarding the condition of the runway.
In a notice released Friday, May 16, Costa Rica’s Civil Aviation Authority announced the airport will close immediately through June 30, at which point the runway will be inspected again.
For the tourism-based community of Tamarindo and its neighboring beach towns, the airport closure is a blow to the local economy, locals residents and business owners say.
“It’s not just my business – Nature Air and Sansa can’t fly – it hurts everybody,” said Guido Scheidt, owner of Auto Gyro America, which offers gyrocopter flights and classes out of the Tamarindo Airport. “The whole town – restaurants, hotels – we will all suffer if we can’t come up with the money to fix the safety issues to at least get the runway reopened temporarily.”
Scheidt called upon local businesses to come together and start a fund to fix the immediate problems with the runway – namely potholes and other debris cluttering the airstrip.
“I don’t think it will take a ton of money to repair it, just enough to get up to code,” Scheidt said. “What I’m trying to do is get the community involved to raise money and create a fund to reopen the airport for the transition period before we can move to a new runway, owned and run by the government.”
According to Scheidt, there is an ongoing, two-year discussion with Reserva Conchal, a large real estate conglomerate in the Flamingo area (15-minutes from Tamarindo), about donating a piece of their land to the government to open a public airport for the Tamarindo area.
“If Conchal donates the land, then the aviation authorities can build a new runway,” Scheidt said. “The authorities have the money to build a very nice airport, however, they can’t do this on private land – they need to own it – due to a legal issue.”
Land rights were also involved in the recent decision to temporarily close the Tamarindo Airport.
Currently, the airstrip is located on private land owned by the Grupo Diria – land the hotel group plans to eventually transform into a full-size golf course with residences for sale.
The privately owned runway generates little income, and according to Scheidt, with no one else helping to raise funds, it would make no sense for Diria to shell out money for reparations when there are long-term plans to move the airport.
“The government said the runway needed to be fixed so it no longer had any safety concerns, but since no one else is donating money to fix it and it doesn’t make any money for the Diria, they had to let the government close the runway until the community can come up with the money.”
Scheidt hopes that with the support of the community, local business owners will generate funds to quickly fix the runway to the point where Diria will allow the government to reinstate air traffic for the interim period until a new airport is complete – something he estimates could take at least two to three years, if not more.
But there is good news – Civil Aviation’s specific safety concerns include minor issues such as potholes and rocks obstructing the runway – all problems Scheidt believes can be fixed at a reasonable cost.
“Our goal is to come together and find enough money to reopen the runway and keep it safe and running until the new airport is built,” he added. “Everyone has an interest in this.”
As of Saturday, May 17, Civil Aviation had not yet published an official notice about the closing on its website (http://www.dgac.go.cr/). However, officials at the Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport in Liberia – the next closest airport to Tamarindo – did tell Scheidt the announcement should be up early next week.
A call to Grupo Diria for comment had not been returned as of Saturday. The Tico Times will update this story as more information becomes available.