Tocumen International Airport Expansion Program
Panama City, Panama 
Best Project  

Owner Tocumen SA
Design Firm, Structural & MEP Engineer Foster + Partners
Design-Build Contractor Odebrecht Engineering and Construction
Civil Engineer T.Y. Lin International
Local Architect Mallol & Mallol

The expansion of Tocumen International Airport added a 116,000-sq-meter terminal and 20 gates, along with infrastructure upgrades for larger aircraft to increase capacity at what is now Central America’s busiest airport.

The nearly $1-billion project creates a facility to handle about 25 million annual passengers and provides a world-class gateway to boost Panama as a regional and international hub. Inspired by the tropical climate and proximity to the Panama Canal, it was designed to be “iconic and environmentally friendly,” said the submitter. There were more than 30 design options developed.

The contractor says its quality control system included detailed oversight of component fabrication in South Korea, particularly for the geometrically complex terminal roof. Work involved about 25,000 inspections and registered tests, with 100,000 bolt inspections for the metal roof alone, the team says.

The project set new milestones in Panama and Central America in the use of more durable asphalt and concrete, and technology tools.

Since many specialized approaches were new to the workforce, safety programs offered enhanced tools to simulate jobsite risks and included workers in weekly field inspections with management.

Media reports say Tocumen is likely to surpass its design capacity in a few years, with air service demand in Panama forecasted to grow at a 6.5% compound annual rate through 2032. Plans call for building a third airport runway.

Completion of this expansion comes as Odebrecht takes on other Panama infrastructure projects, but also amid unfolding contracting ethics enforcement actions and repercussions involving the contractor and government officials in that country and elsewhere in Latin America.

Company Chief Compliance Officer Olga Pontes said last year that 71% of alleged illegal or unethical activities reported to its Ethics Line, which was upgraded in 2017, generated follow-up probes.

Employees, clients, third parties and the public can access the 24/7 line, now handled by an independent third party “to guarantee security and confidentiality and prevent fear from retaliation.”

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