Punta Cana International Airport
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|Punta Cana International Airport
Aeropuerto Internacional Punta Cana
|Owner/Operator||Punta Cana Resort and Club/Grupo Punta Cana|
|Serves||Punta Cana, Higuey|
|Location||Punta Cana in La Altagracia Province, Dominican Republic|
|Opened||December 17, 1983|
|Elevation AMSL||40 ft / 12.2 m|
Punta Cana International Airport (IATA: PUJ, ICAO: MDPC) is a privately owned commercial airport in Punta Cana, eastern Dominican Republic. The airport is built in a traditional Dominican style with open-air terminals with their roofs covered in palm fronds. Grupo PuntaCana built the airport, which was designed by architect Oscar Imbert, and inaugurated it in December 1983. It became the first privately owned international airport in the world.
A number of scheduled and charter airlines fly to Punta Cana; more than 6.3 million passengers (arrivals and departures combined) pass through the terminals, moved by almost 60,000 commercial aircraft operations. The operators of the airport, Corporación Aeroportuaria del Este, S.A. (a private corporation run by Puntacana Resort and Club), expanded the facility in November 2011 with a new runway and air traffic control tower designed to support the robust growth of travel to the region. In 2014, the airport accounted for 60% of all air arrivals in the Dominican Republic.
The history of aviation for the Punta Cana region started in 1971, when Grupo PuntaCana built its first hotel. They also built a small airstrip, where aircraft could land. There was no terminals, no runway; it was just a flat piece of land. The only problem was that the area was very secluded from the rest of the Dominican Republic. Also, many more people were starting to go to Punta Cana for vacation, with more and more small cabins being built. Since there were no roads nor harbors, the only way to get into Punta Cana was by air.
In the late 1970s a road was built, to connect the area with the capital of that province, Higüey. Tourists from various countries started to come in. They had to pass through Las Américas International Airport in Santo Domingo, then take a short flight in a single-engine plane to Punta Cana. The airstrip itself had significant problems, such as a very short runway and still no terminal. This meant passengers would exit their plane and be directed onto a road to be picked up to ride to their hotel, which was inconvenient. Grupo PuntaCana knew it needed a real airport.
Planning and construction
In late 1974, Grupo PuntaCana started to plan the first private international airport. However, the local government disapproved of the new airport. After 8 full years of arguing with the province, a contract was made to being construction on the new airport. The airport would be standing were the old airstrip stood. In early 1981 planning started on the airport. Oscar Imbert (son of General Imbert) was chosen to be the architect of the new airport. He wanted the terminal architecture to be based on Native American Taines and Arawak structures. At the same time, he wanted to give the passengers a paradise feeling. The problem is that the planners did not want to pay for expensive air conditioning. The solution to this problem was to build the terminal in such a way that the coastal breezes from the Caribbean Sea would come in and cool down the passengers. The terminal building was planned to have dead fronds a Cane palms of the roof and for the walls, stone from the nearby jungles. For the columns, they would use eucalyptus logs.
Construction on the new airport started in early 1982, the small airstrip would have to close down. To substitute for the loss, a small concrete airstrip was made as a temporary airport. This concrete strip would turn into a runway when the airport opened. Since the terminal was small and there was not a lot of construction needed, the terminal was completed in under 4 months. The runway and tarmac took a long time since there were not many construction workers building the airport. The area was secluded, which dissuaded many construction workers from trying to build the airport. However, after 8 years of persuading the government, and 2 more years of construction, the airport began operations on December 17, 1983.
When the airport opened, it started out with a 5,000-foot runway, which would be able to fit larger propeller planes. The building was 300 square meters in area, and could assist 150 passengers every 1 and a half. The small control tower was also opened and started to be used. In January 1984, Punta Cana had its first international flight from San Juan, Puerto Rico. The aircraft was a small double turbo propeller aircraft with 20 passengers. Its first year, 1984, received 2,976 passengers Now, with a proper airport, many new hotels were built during the time period. However, now that they were more hotels, more people wanted to fly to Punta Cana. There was an increased demand to bring jet aircraft to Punta Cana. This led to the airport's first expansion in 1987. The runway was expanded to 7,500 feet, along with a small expansion of the terminal. The tarmac was expanded to accommodate jet aircraft. The terminal was renovated and more check-in stands were built. This expansion allowed many more aircraft to land at the airport. The small control tower was also renovated, with new radar systems added in. However, large jet aircraft did not fly to Punta Cana until the early 1990s. During this time, new airlines from around the Caribbean started to fly here. The second expansion was added in 1988, in which a new taxiway was added so it could be easier to get off the runway and onto the tarmac. 1989 was also the year that the first private jets started to fly to the airport. There were only about four airlines in 1988. All of these small airlines were regional, coming from different parts of the Caribbean. Towards the end of 1989, another expansion started to expand the runway to 10,171 feet. This expansion was completed in late 1990.
The 1990s was a major change to the airport. Now that the runway was 10,171 feet, long-haul jets could fly there. In late 1992, the airline Condor Flugdienst acquired several new Boeing 767s. During this time, the airline was expanding rapidly. One of its new destinations was Punta Cana. The airlines would fly from Frankfurt on a 10-hour flight. This became the first route from Europe, and the first long-haul route in the airport's history. Around the same time, LTU International started a route from Berlin. Also, many airlines around the Caribbean stopped operations to the airport. Since now there were long-haul flights. In 1993, the airline Hapag-Lloyd Flug began a route from Düsseldorf. Air Transat began a route from Montréal. Which became the first route from Canada. In 1994, American Airlines started operations to Miami International Airport. The same year, Lauda Air began operations from Vienna. The Dutch wanted a route to Punta Cana, so in January 1995, Martinair began operations from Amsterdam Schiphol. ATA Airlines started to fly to Midway International Airport in early 1996. During this time, the airport had begun to get crowded, however, to further expansion were done until 1998. Over time, more airlines from Europe, Canada, and the US began operations to Punta Cana. In 1997, 3 more airlines were added. Soon there was an increasing demand for an expansion. As the tarmac was not big enough to fit all of the new jet aircraft. This was becoming a major problem, as new airlines could not introduce new routes unless the airport expanded. In 1998, two new airlines began operations. Towards the end of 1998, the tarmac was extremely busy, it was very dangerous too. Since the aircraft had to taxi on the runway itself, turn and then take off. There was a high risk of a collision on the runway if two planes were on it at the same time. Sometimes te narrow taxiways were so full, some airplanes had to wait 20 minutes before beginning to taxi to the runway. During 1999, only 1 airline started to fly there, because the small airport was too crowded As the amount of passengers only escalated, Grupo PuntaCana had begun to plan the massive expansion. The expansion had begun in late 1999. The construction would end in late 2000.
In 2000, there was a major expansion; the terminal was expanded twice its original size and was renovated again, there was a long taxiway added to prevent a collision on the runway, and the tarmac was expanded and renovated to fit six aircraft. This expansion was completed in 2001. By then one more airline was added, by 2001, two more airlines. During this time, Punta Cana was changing, malls and roads were being built, along with brand new hotels. Now, many people were flying to Punta Cana, and once again the airport got crowded by 2002. During this time, a new parking lot was built along with the new Punta Cana Village. That year, no new airlines flew there. By 2003, there was a small expansion of the terminal and the tarmac was expanded to allow 7 passenger airplanes to park at the airport. This was also the year the Grupo Puntacana had begun the planning of a second runway. In 2004, the was a second expansion on the tarmac to allow many more aircraft to fly there. This also when older airlines started to cease operations to the airport. By 2005, only 15 airlines flew to the airport. That same year, the construction of a second runway was approved and planning on the runway had started.
The airport has five terminals: International Terminals A and B for international passenger travel; FBO Terminal, located west of terminal B, for executive general aviation, both national and international; National Terminal, located east of the FBO terminal, for national charter and general aviation; VIP Terminal, Located east of Terminal A, a private terminal including an aircraft parking apron. Punta Cana International Airport serves 96 cities in 28 countries. Terminal B was built to hold larger aircraft like the Airbus A380 along with seven airbridges, one being for the Airbus A380. This new terminal was completed in 2014 and can comfortably accommodate 6,500 travelers daily and over 2 million travelers annually.
Punta Cana's airport operators completed an airport expansion project in November 2011, which included a new runway, a control tower equipped with modern radio and air traffic control equipment. Additionally, there is a new Terminal Approach Radar Control facility and a new Automated Weather Observation Station (AWOS). This new facility also provides a back-up to the National Radar System located in Santo Domingo. A second international terminal which opened in 2014 is designed to accommodate about 6,500 passengers daily. The operators plan to open a third terminal and renovate runway 09/27 while also constructing a cargo terminal.
Plans were underway for a U.S. Customs and Border Protection preclearance station to be opened at the airport by the end of summer 2009, however, this has not yet begun. According to Frank Rainieri, president of Grupo Puntacana, negotiations have re-opened (June 2015) and he anticipates that this airport will be the first in Latin America to offer such preclearance service.
Airlines and destinations
Accidents and incidents
On October 13, 2014, the engine of a Jetstream Bae 32 aircraft belonging to Air Century Airlines caught fire while landing after a charter flight from Luis Munoz Marin International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The airplane crew declared an emergency and landed the aircraft at 20:45 local time, after a 49-minute flight, but the plane was destroyed in a subsequent fire. There were no injuries among the 13 passengers and two crew members on the flight.
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Media related to Punta Cana International Airport at Wikimedia Commons