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, Higüey|
|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.
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The history of aviation in the Punta Cana region started in 1971, when Grupo PuntaCana built its first hotel and a small airstrip where aircraft could land. There were no terminals and 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 having 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 eight full years of arguing with the province, a contract was made to begin construction on the new airport. The airport would be built were the old airstrip stood. In early 1981 planning started on the airport. Oscar Imbert (son of General Antonio Imbert) was chosen as architect. He wanted the terminal architecture to be based on Native American Tainos and Arawak structures. At the same time, he wanted to give the passengers a paradise feeling. The problem was 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 fronds of 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, and the small airstrip had to close down. To substitute for the loss, a small concrete airstrip was made into a temporary airport. This 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 four 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 eight years of persuading the government, and two more years of construction, the airport began operations on December 17, 1983.
The airport started out with a 5,000 feet (1,500 m) runway, which could fit larger propeller planes. The building was 300 square metres (3,200 sq ft) in area, and could assist 150 passengers every hour and a half. The small control tower began to be used.
In January 1984, Punta Cana had its first international flight from San Juan, Puerto Rico operated by the Puerto Rican airline, Prinair. The aircraft was a small double turbo propeller aircraft with 20 passengers. In 1984, the airport received 2,976 passengers.
With a proper airport, many new hotels were built. However, now that there 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 (2,300 m), 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. 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 when 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 (3,100 m). This expansion was completed in late 1990.
The 1990s brought a major change to the airport. Now that the runway was 10,171 feet (3,100 m), long-haul jets could fly there. In late 1992, the German airline Condor Flugdienst acquired several new Boeing 767s.
During this time, Condor was expanding rapidly. One of its new destinations was Punta Cana. The planes 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. In October 1996, the Chilean airline Lan Chile began to fly 767s from Bogota and Santiago.
Over time, more airlines from Europe, Canada, and the US began operations to Punta Cana. In 1997, three more airlines were added. There was 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 and dangerous, 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 the narrow taxiways were so full, some airplanes had to wait 20 minutes before beginning to taxi to the runway. During 1999, only one airline started to fly there, because the small airport was too crowded. As the number of passengers grew, Grupo PuntaCana began to plan a massive expansion. The expansion began in late 1999 and ended in late 2000.
In 2000, there was a major expansion: the terminal was expanded twice its original size to 600 square metres (6,500 sq ft) 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, and by 2001, two more.
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 was crowded by 2002. 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 seven 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, there was a second expansion on the tarmac to allow many more aircraft to fly there. This was 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 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; and 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 and a control tower equipped with modern radio and air traffic control equipment. There are also a new Terminal Approach Radar Control facility and a new Automated Weather Observation Station (AWOS). This new facility 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 (as of June 2015) and he anticipates that this airport will be the first in Latin America (not including those in Puerto Rico, which is considered part of Latin America but is a U.S. territory) 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 February 10, 2016, Orenair flight 554 to Moscow Domodedovo Airport reported an engine fire and smoke in the cabin. The crew decided to turn around and land the aircraft, without dumping fuel, rather circling around the airport. Upon landing the overweight aircraft, the landing gear overheated and caught fire, and the aircraft was evacuated. There were no injuries among the 371 occupants of the Boeing 777 and it remained grounded at the airport for 10 months, leaving in December 2016.
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Media related to Punta Cana International Airport at Wikimedia Commons