Thursday, August 9, 2007 - 7:02 PM

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The October 1975 edition of the magazine "Acción Cívica" tells us that Las Mercedes International Airport (AILM) had its beginnings in what is now known as the old terminal. This old building can be found behind the customs warehouses at the current air terminal.

According to Mr. Sr. Bill Sphorer, executive of UPS Cargo in Miami and one of the aviation pioneers in Latin America, most of the airports in teh region were built thanks to the cooperation of the now defunct Pan American Airways.

Acción Cívica relates that it was not ultil 1968, during the administration of President Somoza Debayle, that the air terminal building was inaugurated, with a ramp capable of accommodating four Boeing 707 positions Later, in the early 1970s, the ramp was expanded to accommodate two new positions. This terminal fell under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of War, Marine and Aviation.

The expanded terminal housed four health inspectors, eight immigration officers and ten customs inspectors. It was fully equipped with air conditioning, background music, loudspeakers and modern conveyor belts for automatic baggage handling. The new terminal building, with its pleasant and comfortable environment, was capable of serving passengers from two an three simultaneous flights.

To give us an idea just how important this air terminal was, international passenger throughput at Las Mercedes International Airport totaled 197,812 in 1972, 186,984 in 1973, and 226,200 in 1974, reflecting an annual growth of more than 20 percent.

International cargo throughput was 30.5 million pounds in 1972, 36.6 million in 1973, and 44.8 million in 1974, for an annual increase of 25 percent. The customs office at Las Mercedes International Airport issued 30,164 permits in 1974.

By 1975, among the companies that regularly flew into Las Mercedes International Airport were: Pan American, Taca, Copa, Sahsa, Sam, Iberia and Lanica, the latter flying the flag for Nicaragua. On the 27th of May, the expansion of the west wing of the air terminal was inaugurated,as well as the current air cargo customs warehouse, in an effort to meet the growing commercial flight demand. The passenger terminal was built with a view at maintaining domestic and international operations in the same building and the airport management offices on the upper levels. In 1977, the west wing was expanded, adding waiting rooms, immigration offices and duty-free shops.

In the 1980s the airport was renamed Augusto César Sandino International Airport. Very little improvements were made to the airport and the buildings underwent great deterioration. In 1996, the expansion and remodeling was resumed with a more modern approach for arrivals and departures, as well as the construction of 2,200 m² for lounges, stores, VIP lounge, an elevator, an escalator and a boarding bridge. By the end of the 1990s, the airport was simply known as Managua International Airport. Two boarding bridges were installed during this period.

The average flow of passengers has increased by 10 percent over the last few years, and cargo throughput has reached an average of 2 percent. It is estimated that this increase will continue at more than 6 percent during the next few years.

In an effort to improve the efficiency of its operations, the Airport Authority has redesigned its organizational structure. A few years ago it had 530 employees, now it has 342, which represents a significant optimization of human resources and services. Likewise, in order to provide better quiality services, it has initiated a Master Plan, which includes the planned and orderly remodeling of the Managua airport terminal and management offices, as well as a new fire station, a terminal building for domestic flights and the expansion of the runway.

On August 2002, President Enrique Bolaños Geyer inaugurated Phase II of the Master Plan for the construction of 11,000 m² to the east of the building, including the structural reinforcement of the building with anti-seismic features, nine bases for ceiling hangers, metal ceilings, picture windows, automatic doors, twenty-two immigration booths for arriving passengers, a VIP lounge, a Presidential lounge, two carrousels capable of handling 900 pieces of baggage per hour, duty-free shops, hotel, car rental and tourism counters, concessions for souvenirs stands, offices for immigration authorities and the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Forestry, lounges for departing passengers, a bar-restaurant, a drugstore and a boarding bridge.

The Airport Authority plans to begin Phase III in May 2003, which comprises the construction of 6,000 m² and remodeling of the west end of the building to accommodate 52 baggage check-in counters, airline offices, baggage drop-off, three boarding bridges, 400-seat boarding lounges, dury-free shops and airline VIP lounges.

Phase IV, the last phase, is scheduled to begin in February 2004. It includes the overall remodeling of the original terminal building and the expansion of the public waiting area to double its size. Stores, a fast food courtyard, cafeterias, handicraft stands, ice cream parlors, among others, will be located at ground level. More lounges, duty-free shops and security offices will be located on the second floor. Likewise, the building will be reinforced with buttress walls to protect the public in the event of an earthquake.