Nuevo Pudahuel – Leading by example

We check back in with Nuevo Pudahuel to see how their airport extension has progressed and how they are overcoming the challenges of recent times.

Nuevo Pudahuel was started in 2015 to take over the concession of the Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport in Chile. When we last spoke to them, in 2017, we learned about their plans to expand and refurbish the airport. Back then Xavier Lotart-Jacob was the technical officer in charge of the extension works on Arturo Merino Benítez (AMB) International Airport. Since then he has risen through the company to become the CEO of the firm.

Nuevo Pudahuel, first of all, is a concession company whose shareholders are formed by French companies Aéroports de Paris, Vinci Airports and Italian infrastructure company Astaldi each of them adding respectively 45%, 40% and 15%,” he tells us. “If you just focus on Aéroports de Paris and the Vinci Airports they operate 70 airports around the world including Gatwick and Charles de Gaulle, across all these airports that represent 500 million passengers. These are two very industrial shareholders with a lot of expertise. It’s good for us because they bring us all the expertise they have and of course, they provide the financing for the project. “The investment from the shareholders is very significant, about $1 billion for the new airport, of which 50 per cent is financed directly by the shareholders.”

Nuevo PudahuelHowever, Lotart-Jacob is keen to point out that Nuevo Pudahuel is so much more than its shareholders, the company’s heart and soul are in Chile.
“We’re a local company. It’s a company working with about 200 people working day and night, 24/7 to provide the best service we can to the community, the air traffic community, the airlines, handlers, cargo operators and at the end to the benefit of the passenger,” he tells us. “Our vision is we want to make Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport into a reference airport for South America, in respect to its traffic, the passenger experience and also in respect to the environment and sustainability. The last point I want to underline is we are the partner of the territory. We are local partners, we live here, in the city of Pudahuel.”

That sense of local pride has become more important than ever in the time of Covid-19. “People in our workforce live here, so as an actor in the territory, we are helping the city to get through this crisis through social action,” Lotart-Jacob says.

An Exemplar Airport

AMB International Airport is looking to set a new benchmark for airports in the region, but achieving that is no small task, especially for plans with such ambition. As an engineer, Lotart-Jacob has a precise understanding of the scale of the task ahead Nuevo Pudahuel.

“The architecture of this building is complex. It’s a very nice architecture but complex,” he explains. “It’s huge- the size of the works we’re carrying out is huge so that means we have a lot of resources to bring on the site, including human resources, sub-contractors, and materials. When you screw up the consequences are big. So that brings several levels of complexity to the project from an engineer’s perspective.”

As well as being an epic project in its own right, the nature of the expansion also makes it hard to respond quickly to evolving situations. “One key point of the project is that it is a brownfield project – as opposed to a greenfield one – which means that we are building a new structure in a middle of a zone where we are currently operating a saturated existing terminal,” Lotard-Jacob explains. “We had to relocate many actors to make zones for construction accessible and focused all our efforts on minimising impacts to other stakeholders and passengers.”

Of course we had an obligation of continuity of service, which made it difficult as far as phasing was concerned but I would say it’s been a very exciting challenge and we are through it now because we are at 80% of progress. It’s just a matter of production.”

Green Wings

A big part of the expansion and transformation of AMB International Airport is a concerted effort to create a greener, more sustainable travel hub.
“We’re investing in electricity, energy saving, waste treatment, water distribution. As an example we have changed all the lights in the existing terminal to bring them up to environmental standards,” Lotart-Jacob says. “We invested in solar panels on the roof of the existing terminal. We have waste management in the existing terminal and we’re committed to reducing our carbon emissions to 50% of what they are today to.” Nuevo Pudahuel

Lotart-Jacob frames these efforts are part of a reassessment of how the airport sector as a whole need to address environmental challenges in the current climate.
“I think there is an interesting point where our industry is facing a major crisis, especially in Europe where we are seeing the states bringing into the industry some financial help on the condition they engage with environmental challenges,” he says. “The French state is bringing 7 billion euros to Air France and Air France is now committed to reducing its carbon emissions for the renovation of the aeroplanes by redirecting their investment to green planes. I think that’s important in this crisis, the public sphere will help new investment in sustainability. I hope this will happen also in Chile. It doesn’t change our vision or that we want to go on with our sustainability plans.”

Of course, recently Nuevo Pudahuel has faced new challenges. “During the past months from March, we have had to pause all these types of projects because we’re in a crisis,” Lotart-Jacob acknowledges. The Covid-19 crisis has seen Nuevo Pudahuel massively change it’s working practices. “We have taken measures without delay to organise the completion of the works while taking into account the new sanitary requirements,” Lotart-Jacob emphasises. “As an example, we organised the work crews so that instead of one shift we have three shifts.”

This will not change the project’s quality, or sustainability targets, however. “We have no change in our vision, so when things return to normal, we will focus on the development of our business,” Lotart-Jacob says firmly. “It’s not easy but all the main construction risks are behind us. We will enjoy a modern airport in 2021 and will work hard to sustain the necessary growth of the traffic.”

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