Brazil's president opens new Sao Paulo airport terminal

The opening comes three weeks ahead of World Cup in Brazil

The opening comes three weeks ahead of World Cup in Brazil

SAO PAULO, Brazil - Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff officially inaugurated Tuesday a long-awaited new terminal in Guarulhos international airport -- the main air hub for the country's largest city, Sao Paulo -- just three weeks before Brazil hosts the World Cup.

Rousseff said the new glass-and-steel terminal represented a "transformation" in the Brazilian population, more and more of whom she said are now able to afford flying as a travel option, highlighting that 46 million Brazilians have moved up the social ladder into the economic middle classes. 

"The changes that we have made here are part of the work done to address the real transformation," she said, adding that the number of people traveling by plane rose to 111 million from 36 million at the beginning of the decade.

Flanked by Sao Paulo's state governor, Geraldo Alckmin; the city's mayor, Fernando Haddad, and the aviation minister, Moreira Franco, Rousseff stressed that the new terminal was for Brazilians, not the World Cup.

Despite Rousseff's efforts to distance the new airport terminal from the key football tournament, Governor Alckmin said the new airport was "one of Neymar's; a most beautiful goal" and was now "the largest airport in the Southern Hemisphere." Neymar is a Brazilian forward and winger who plays for Spanish club FC Barcelona in La Liga. 

The terminal will handle 80 percent of the airport's international flights, with capacity for 34 aircraft, and will initially boost airport capacity by 12 million passengers a year.

- Teething problems

The project was the biggest infrastructure project as part of the country's preparations for the World Cup and began operating a few days ahead of the official inauguration.

Passengers arriving at the terminals complained of teething problems, including issues with baggage reclaim, leaks from ceilings and no water in the bathrooms.

However, the inauguration will likely relieve pressure on Rousseff and her government in the build-up to the World Cup, after fierce criticism over the country's preparations for the tournament and airports bearing the brunt of FIFA's fury along with work on the country's 12 stadiums.

The airport's revamp has cost $1.3 billion so far, including small alterations to two existing terminals.

Around two-thirds of passengers coming to Brazil will arrive through the airport, which was handed over to a private consortium in 2012 for 16.2 billion Brazilian reais ($7.3 billion). Terminals 1 and 2 will begin major renovation works in October.

Around 600,000 foreign visitors are expected at the World Cup, which begins on June 12 in Sao Paulo, as well as over 3 million Brazilian tourists.

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