- Associated Press - Monday, April 7, 2014

SAO PAULO (AP) - Infrastructure experts say that Brazil has run out of time to meet its promise to fully expand and renovate airports that will serve hundreds of thousands of fans pouring into the country for the World Cup that starts in just two months.

Improvements are ready at only two of the 13 major airports that will be used in the tournament. Around the nation, the sounds of jet engines blend with the noise of drills, jackhammers and bulldozers. Construction workers carrying power tools walk alongside passengers toting their luggage.

Most analysts say they don’t expect total chaos when the Cup begins June 12. But they say fans should brace for unfinished construction work, long check-in lines, and last-minute gate changes and flight delays - all already too common in the country’s airports. There will be crowded boarding areas, difficulties claiming baggage, few food-court options and woeful transportation.

Don’t expect to find trains or subway lines to and from the city. Expensive taxis will be the only option most of the time, and long hours in traffic will be the norm on the way to hotels.

The government civil aviation department acknowledges delays, though it insists that “Brazilian airports will be ready” for World Cup tourists.

“The problems seen in some airports will not keep visitors from being welcomed with quality,” the department said in a statement.

Still, government reports show that of the improvement projects that are still underway, more than half of them had less than 50 percent of the work finished. Only the airports in the northeastern cities of Natal and Recife are considered fully ready for the World Cup.

“They say the work will be finished, but a lot of it will just be last-minute solutions to hide what isn’t ready,” said Adriano Pires, a top infrastructure analyst. “The level of comfort will be far from ideal. Brazil had time to get the airports ready, but it took too long to start. From what people will see at the airports, Brazil’s image won’t be a very good one.”

Omar Daniel Martins Netto, a civil aviation and airport consultant based in the southern Brazilian city of Curitiba, agreed.

“This is what happens in a country where lack of planning is normal, everything is late,” he said.

Brazil’s outdated airports were a problem long before the country was awarded the World Cup in 2007. Former Brazilian football federation president Ricardo Teixeira used to say that Brazil had three main problems to solve before the World Cup: “Airports, airports and airports.”

Upgrading airports was a key promise the government made in its winning bid, and it estimates that nearly $2.7 billion in public and private money will be invested in the major airports used in the World Cup.

The government expects 600,000 foreign visitors and 3 million Brazilian tourists during the monthlong tournament. International fans have bought more than 1.5 million tickets for football’s showcase event.

Airports are especially important for the tournament in Brazil because the country has no viable rail system and nearly all the travel between the distant venues must be by air.

“In no other World Cup has aviation played such a vital role, owing to the large number of host cities, the large distances between them and the lack of transport options,” Tony Tyler, CEO of the International Air Transport Association, said recently in Sao Paulo. “The 12 host cities are responsible for 75 percent of all passenger transportation in Brazil, so you can understand that accommodating the additional traffic with the minimum inconvenience is a major undertaking.”

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