In addition to managing four key toll road assets and the El Dorado International Airport in Colombia, Odinsa S.A., the Colombian infrastructure concessions company of Grupo Argos, is in charge of operating the Mariscal Sucre Airport, in the city of Quito, one of the three most important airports in Latin America.
We recently had the privilege of interviewing Mauricio Ossa Echeverri, who serves as the president of Odinsa and former president of Colombian Chamber of Infrastructure, on what he has learned from the pandemic and what he sees on the horizon for infrastructure in the region. Read more below.
1. As you know, we recently had the pleasure of working with Odinsa on the formation of the partnership with Macquarie Asset Management. In light of that transaction and Odinsa's overall experience, what are your expectations for growth in Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) and strategic partnerships in Colombia's infrastructure sector?
We believe the Public-Private Partnerships have great growth potential. This model has demonstrated that it contributes significantly to closing infrastructure gaps in Colombia. The fourth generation (4G) toll road program has been highly successful, with 27 of the 29 highways already under construction or in operation, and the fifth generation (5G) of toll road concessions has been launched, with 26 additional projects.
The partnership with Macquarie enables us to manage both projects that are already in our portfolio and new private initiatives that we are currently leading, through a road infrastructure investment platform involving potential investments of over COP 4.5 trillion (equivalent to approximately USD 1.12 million) for the development of new projects. This encourages us to continue exploring opportunities, such as those offered under the 5G program.
We constantly evaluate the possibility of structuring private projects that meet the needs of different regions of Colombia, such as the Conexión Centro in the Coffee Region, and the Perimetral de la Sabana in Cundinamarca, in line with our commitment to contribute to Colombia's connectivity and competitiveness.
We will continue to actively search for opportunities in the secondary market for road concessions, to identify projects that are of interest and consistent with our strategic focus.
2. The aviation sector was unfortunately one of the most impacted by the pandemic globally. Based on your experience operating many major airports in Colombia and the region, how do you see developments in these sectors post-pandemic? Also, what have been some of the major lessons learned for Odinsa and you personally as a leader?
First, I would like to highlight the major role that airports played in overcoming the disruption caused by COVID-19, and which, undoubtedly, was also one of the most impacted sectors during the pandemic.
The airports achieved a major transformation in terms of technology, digitalization and user experience. Traffic has rebounded during the last year, nearly reaching prepandemic levels. These aspects enabled the sector to play a key role during the pandemic, first by connecting the territories for the efficient provision of medical supplies, technology and food in response to the emergency, and subsequently to contribute to the economic reactivation.
Regarding lessons learned, I highlight the importance of dealing with emergency situations in a structured way. Even in the midst of uncertainty, it is important to stay focused, identify priorities and draw a very clear work path. It is essential to work in coordination with the various actors that interact at an airport. In addition, we must recognize the importance of continuing to strengthen the country's airport infrastructure, which will allow us to expand connectivity options, improve logistics and continue to promote competition.
Along the same lines, a major lesson for me as a leader was that, despite the adversities and challenges, it was important to remain focused and to deliver clear messages when engaging with our team. We must always remain focused on working towards our company's objectives and avoid making the response to the contingency the single focus of our work. In short, to always stay on course with our organization's overall strategy.
3. What changes has Odinsa undergone over the years to adapt to the needs of Colombia and its approach to infrastructure development?
For more than 29 years, we have worked hand-in-hand on achieving Colombia's development vision by structuring and managing road and airport infrastructure projects that incorporate the best practices in environmental conservation, social impact, engineering, safety and user experience. We believe this promotes the competitive advantages of Colombia's regions, and continues to strengthen market confidence in our country and attract investment for Colombia's further development.
Rather than structural changes, we have proposed initiatives that address the country's needs, such as lowcarbon and climate-resilient infrastructure, which, in turn, promote the development of sustainable mobility, and the development of strategic alliances in the territories aimed and protecting and preserving their biodiversity.
I would like to highlight some recent initiatives, including the Pacífico 2 project, which includes iconic infrastructure work, such as the Mulatos Tunnel (2.5 kilometers long), the Cauca Bridges that rise 112 meters above the Cauca River, and the Operations Control Center, which was designed as a community meeting point for social, economic and cultural activities that contribute to strengthening of the social fabric. This project was also recognized as an innovator in wildlife crossings and as a contributor to the development of the Tropical Dry Forest Research Center for the care and protection of biodiversity. It is also the first concession in the country to have received road safety certification from Icontec. These aspects have made it a role model for the development of concessions in the country.
4. Is it possible to conclude that Colombia's concession model can be seen as a model for other countries in the region?
Yes, in fact, through the toll road concession model, Colombia has reached a significant degree of maturity in terms of the regulation, structuring and development of Public-Private Partnerships. Over the last 27 years, the state has managed to have more than 10,000 km of roads built. This toll road model has evolved with each generation of concessions by incorporating lessons learned and strengthening regulations, thereby creating better conditions to attract investment.
Colombia is considered one of the countries with the best public-private partnership management, according to the World Bank. This has enabled making progress in productivity, and has also positioned Colombia as a pioneer in the presentation of private initiatives, according to the country's National Planning Department.
Naturally, there are aspects that need further strengthening and evolution; however, the current concessions model and, in general, the process developed to achieve it, may serve as a benchmark for other countries in the Latin American region.
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