GUARULHOS, SÃO PAULO – Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff officially opened a long-awaited new international terminal at São Paulo’s main Guarulhos international airport on Tuesday, three weeks before the country hosts the World Cup.
Rousseff said the new glass and steel terminal represented a transformation in the Brazilian population, more and more of whom are now able to afford flying as a travel option after 46 million Brazilians moved up on the social ladder into the economic middle classes.
“The changes that we have made here are part of the work done to address the real transformation seen from when we saw 36 million people travelling by plane at the beginning of the decade, to 111 million today,” she said.
Flanked by São Paulo state governor Geraldo Alckmin, São Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad and Aviation Minister Moreira Franco, Rousseff stressed that the new terminal was destined for Brazilians, and not for the World Cup.
However, despite Rousseff’s efforts to distance the new airport terminal from the key football (soccer) tournament, Governor Alckmin said the new airport was “one of Neymar’s; a most beautiful goal” and was now the largest airport in the Southern Hemisphere.
The terminal will handle some 80% of the airport’s international flights, with capacity for 34 aircraft, and will initially boost airport capacity by 12 million passengers a year.
The project was the biggest infrastructure project as part of the country’s preparations for the World Cup and began operating a few days ahead of the official inauguration.
Passengers arriving at the terminals complained of teething problems, including problems with baggage reclaim, leaks from ceilings and and no water in the bathrooms.
However, the inauguration will likely relieve pressure on President Rousseff and her government in the build-up to the World Cup, after fierce criticism over the country’s preparations for the tournament and airports bearing the brunt of FIFA’s fury along with work on the country’s 12 stadiums.
Some $1.3 billion has been spent on the revamp of São Paulo’s main international airport so far, which has also included small alternations to two existing terminals and a new parking lot.
Around two-thirds of passengers arriving in Brazil will arrive through the airport, which was handed over to a private consortium in 2012 for R$16.2 billion ($7.3 billion at today’s exchange rate). Terminals 1 and 2 will begin major renovation works this October.
Around 600,000 foreign visitors are expected at the World Cup, which begins on June 12 in São Paulo, as well as over 3 million Brazilian tourists.