Mexico City three-airport plan takes heat from industry leaders

In October, Mexico voters moved to abandon plans for the construction of a massive, US$13.3 billion replacement airport for Mexico City International (MEX) after the new airport was about one-third complete. Mexico’s government has since announced plans to operate three airports in the vicinity – continued operation at MEX, additional utilization of Toluca Airport (TLC) and conversion of the military airbase at Santa Lucia (NLU) for civilian use – but airlines, as well as the International Air Transport Association (IATA), are critical of the new strategy. 

At IATA’s Aviation Summit Mexico yesterday, IATA’s director general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac said, “When Mexico decided to build a new hub airport to serve Mexico City (NAIM) the industry breathed a sigh of relief,” as MEX is already operating well over the limits of its designed capacity. The decision to discontinue construction of the new hub was a disappointment to the industry, he added, and still leaves the question of how to address the capacity constraints in Mexico City. According to de Juniac, making the proposed fix of a three-airport plan work “will be challenging.” 

The plan faces an assortment of roadblocks affecting each of the three airports the government intends to serve the city. At MEX, plans to convert the government terminal are unlikely to solve the capacity problem “when there is no practical way to add a third runway,” de Juniac said. Meanwhile, TLC has room to add more capacity, but with 70 kilometers between it and MEX, making efficient connections between the airports is unlikely, leaving growth at TLC to likely be only for point-to-point traffic. Finally, the work needed to convert NLU for civilian use will require substantial time and money investments, as well as training for airport staff in civilian airport operation. 

Carriers currently operating out of MEX, including combination carrier AeroMexico, are also critical of the proposed three-airport solution. AeroMexico operates widebody and narrowbody passenger aircraft, while Air Transport Services Group subsidiary carrier ABX Air also operates a 767-300 freighter on behalf of AeroMexico’s cargo division on routes between MEX and Guadalajara (GDL) and MEX and Los Angeles (LAX).  

During a panel at Summit Mexico, AeroMexico CEO Andres Conesa said, “Airlines like ours that operate widebody aircraft need to operate out of one single airport, we need one single operation center,” Bloomberg reported. Conesa also told FlightGlobal that the carrier finds the three-airport plan untenable and will keep its operations at MEX. “It’s way too many,” he said. “Ideally we want to stay in just one.”  

Other cargo carriers based at MEX, including AeroUnion, Mas Air and TUM AeroCarga, have not returned requests for comment.  

Those interested in learning more about infrastructure development are invited to join us at Cargo Facts Asia 2019, to be held 15-17 April at the Langham Shanghai. For more information, or to register, visit Discounted early-bird registration ends today, 1 March.

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