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Juan Santamaría Airport fuel depot

Project type:



Architect/engineer of record; design, programming, and construction administration services

Construction cost:

$22.5 million

Fueling expansion in Costa Rica

Juan Santamaría International Airport / San José, Costa Rica


Costa Rica’s leading airport, the Juan Santamaría International Airport in San José is named after a drummer boy who died in 1856 defending his country from the American adventurer William Walker.

As Costa Rica became an increasingly popular destination for ecotourists rather than would-be conquerors, Juan Santamaría grew to be one of the busiest airports in Latin America. In 2010, the airport received more than four million passengers.

Over time, the airport’s undersized fueling system was overburdened. Located mostly underground, it suffered from leaks and corrosion leading to contamination of the airport site — not a good story for a country that prides itself on its unspoiled rainforest.


In 2006, a Mott MacDonald engineer learned from a fuel equipment vendor that RECOPE, Costa Rica’s national oil company, planned to update the fueling system. Together with the vendor, he traveled to Costa Rica to discuss pursuing the opportunity in collaboration with EDICA, a local contractor.

Mott MacDonald won the project with a proposal that RECOPE called “outstanding.” With the client’s support, we managed the cleanup of the contaminated site and designed a modern, aboveground, state-of-the-art fueling system for the airport.

A new fuel depot features four 5,000-barrel storage tanks for A-1 jet fuel. Each one is equipped with instrumentation, floating suctions, fixed foam fire protection, water cool-down system, containment dikes, tank-bottom leak detection, and cathodic protection. Twenty-four fuel hydrant pits are served by a 4,400 gallon-per-minute fuel system equipped with the Vista Line Leak Detection System.

The project also includes modifications to an existing pump station at the La Garita Bulk Terminal, 7 miles from the airport. Pumping, filtration, measurement, controls, and instrumentation systems are upgraded in order to increase pumping pressure at the facility.

Laura Chinchilla, the first female president of Costa Rica, was on hand in the spring of 2013 for the ribbon-cutting ceremony marking the completion of the project.


Part of a larger project to renovate Juan Santamaría International Airport, the upgraded fuel system will ensure that the airport can handle even greater traffic into the future. Extensive environmental safeguards help ensure that more flights and more passengers will not mean more impact on the environment.

The project at Juan Santamaría was so successful that RECOPE chose the same team of Mott MacDonald and EDICA to upgrade the fueling system at the Liberia airport on Costa Rica’s west coast, which is used by an increasingly number of tourists bound for the beaches of the Pacific coast.

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