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Brazil has completed its biggest infrastructure project for the World Cup with only 32 days to spare, opening the country’s long-awaited new international airport terminal in São Paulo.
In defiance of critics who said it would not be ready in time, the consortium running the São Paulo Guarulhos airport started operating the glass and steel complex on Sunday that will eventually handle all international flights to Latin America’s biggest city.
The inauguration will help relieve pressure on Brazil’s government, which has faced growing criticism from Fifa over the country’s lack of preparation for the tournament. São Paulo’s Itaquerão stadium, which will host the opening match of the World Cup, held its first game at the weekend although the grandstands are yet to be finished.
The R$2.9bn ($1.3bn) revamp of São Paulo’s airport for the World Cup, which included minor changes to the existing terminals and a new car park, will also help resolve one of the country’s most visible infrastructure problems.
Famous for its queues and grim, cramped concrete structure, Guarulhos previously ranked among the world’s most-hated airports. Only three months ago, the airport suffered a 20-minute blackout, preventing aeroplanes from landing or taking off.
“Two-thirds of passengers who come to Brazil by plane arrive here so it’s the most important gateway to Brazil,” said Antonio Miguel Marques, head of GRU, the private consortium that paid R$16.2bn in 2012 for the Guarulhos concession.
In an effort to speed up preparations for the World Cup, as well as the Olympics in 2016, Brazil’s government ended the state monopoly over the country’s airports in 2011, allowing private groups to take a 51 per cent share of the new concessions.
About 600,000 football fans are expected to arrive in Brazil for the World Cup, while as many as 3m Brazilians are set to travel to different cities during the tournament.
Over the next four months, 21 airlines will migrate to São Paulo’s new terminal, Terminal 3, allowing workers to fully renovate the existing terminals, which will be dedicated to domestic flights.
Brasília, the country’s capital, also opened a new wing of its airport last month but other cities are struggling to complete their upgrades. In January the northeastern city of Fortaleza admitted that it would not finish its new terminal until 2017. The airport will instead erect giant tents to welcome fans to the city.