Brazil’s New Airport Terminal Glistens Among World Cup Stumbles

Walking through Sao Paulo’s new airport terminal, you’d never suspect the trouble coursing through the city ahead of the World Cup Brazil begins hosting

Sunlight illuminates the gleaming, soaring wing of Guarulhos International Airport that opened this week, ready to receive the estimated 600,000 visitors who will fly into the country for the monthlong international soccer tournament.

Terminal 3, at 192,000 square meters (2.1 million square feet), is slightly larger than terminals 1, 2 and 4 combined and has the capacity to receive as many as 12 million passengers a year. The cathedral-height interior dwarfs the claustrophobic terminals 1 and 2, built with concrete and one strip of skylight in 1985.

The glass structure is a bright spot of success amid other transportation projects and stadiums that remain unfinished. Construction has been delayed by cost overruns and even the death of workers. Brazil is also mired in protests and deadly clashes from Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro as citizens show their opposition to what many consider misguided public spending on new arenas and infrastructure rather than education and social services.

“This seems to be the only success story,” said Ricardo Gazetta, a sales manager at loyalty points company Multiplus SA (MPLU3) in Sao Paulo. He was checking in for a flight to Porto, Portugal, on TAP SGPS SA on May 13. “It looks like a serious building, it’s huge, it’s beautiful.”

Failed Projects

Brazil has failed to deliver on 45 percent of the infrastructure projects it promised to build when it won the right to host the championship in 2007, according to a study done by Portal da Copa 2014, a World Cup news website run by the national architecture and engineering union.

The terminal, built with sustainable engineering including water recycling and windows with heat filters, was finished on time and within the 2.9 billion-real ($1.3 billion) allotted budget, said Gustavo Figueiredo, chief operations officer of Terminal 3, in a telephone interview. About 8,000 people were employed and workers dug and drilled 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Grupo Invepar, owned by the OAS SA construction company and government-associated pension funds, and Airports Co. South Africa won the right to build the terminal and operate the airport when it was auctioned off in 2012 in the form of a 20-year contract.

“Operationally, it’s been a success from day one,” Figueiredo said, citing the installation of scanners to get people through the gates, eliminating the need for employees. “The focus is on the passenger. He does his own check-in and can quickly enter the departure lounge where he can relax and be sure he won’t miss his flight.”

Once travelers are past security and the federal police, Terminal 3 becomes a mouthwatering mall where iPhones are sold for about $649 at Fnac (FNAC) shops, compared with 2,799 reais at stores in the city. The iPhones sold out three days after the terminal opened. Shoppers can also hit the first Victoria’s Secret in Brazil for lingerie or Coach for a purse, free of the heavy import taxes levied on items sold in Brazilian stores.

About 66 percent of the total rented area is open for business and that will grow to 80 percent by the time the World Cup begins on June 12. TAP, Deutsche Lufthansa AG (LHA) and Swiss International Air Lines AG are operating at the new terminal, with another six coming in the next few weeks. A total of 25 airlines will use the new terminal by September.

“It’s an absurd difference from the old terminals,” said Edgard Paulo Paixao, director at Sao Jose dos Campos, Brazil-based Brasil Treina, a school franchise that trains professionals entering the job market in data processing and languages. He had just checked in for a flight to Munich on Lufthansa. “This is like being in the First World, but can you imagine 25 airlines here?”