In 2011 the Panamanian government declared the decision to rebuild the Rio Hato airport, located in the province of Cocle, near the Decameron Beach resort and property development. The new airport has been built on existing U.S. military infrastructure that dates back to 1942. This decision saved a significantly higher investment. According to airport administration, the Scarlett Martinez International Airport will cost the Panamanian government approximately two hundred million dollars. If the airport had been build without using the existing infrastructure, costs would have been upwards of a billion dollars.
In September of 2012, President Ricardo Martinelli expressed that the airport would bring new opportunities to the province of Cocle through the generation of jobs in the tourism, agriculture and the real estate industry. At that time, it was thought that the airport would open in July 2013.
While the airport is past due, we can confirm it is fast approaching completion. Rumors have the opening in November, however we could not get any confirmation on a date from anyone we spoke with.
We walked through the small terminal, as workers furiously put finishing touches on the building. A foreman from the control tower said the construction was to be completed by Mid-November. We think the runway could be seeing the first flights touch wheels down before the next edition of the paper!
Katherine Benitez, the airport administrator told us that two Canadian companies have shown interest in offering direct flights to the area. However, she could not confirm which airlines were coming.
Rumors point to Air Transat and Sunwing as the first Canadian companies with service to the new airport. One thing that makes the rumors a little stronger is a letter that Stephen Hunter CEO of Sunwing wrote to Martinelli last year. In it he said that he was thrilled to learn of the new government’s proposal to build the Rio Hato airport, and looked forward to offering Panama as a destination.
The clues seem to indicate that charter airlines will be the first to bring tourists to the beach. That certainly would be welcome news for regular Panama vacationers, who generally have to suffer long hours of bus rides and hotel check-ins, before their vacations begin.
The Scarlett Martinez airport will include a new tunnel, terminal building, control tower, fire rescue building, meteorological observatory and a rehabilitated runway.
The terminal will hold 500 people, and the runway will be suited for aircrafts of the BOEING 757 – 200 types (airplanes holding up to 228 passengers). The airport is currently listed on several travel sites, with the airport code MPHR.
The airport is named after Scarlett Martinez, a 22 years old co-pilot, flying for Aeroperlas. Scarlett was on her first flight from Albrook to Puerto Obaldía in Comarca Kuna Yala. The airplane disappeared on March 17, 2000 with 8 passengers and 2 crew. The plane was found six days later crashed against the Pito Carreto mountain in Comarca Kuna Yala.