Three weeks before facing a midterm recall referendum, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador will inaugurate his first major pet infrastructure project on Monday – a controversial new airport for Mexico City.
Built on a military airbase outside the capital, Felipe Angeles International Airport is meant to relieve pressure on the city’s Benito Juarez Airport.
But so far only a few airlines have agreed to use it, for a small number of mostly domestic flights.
Benito Juarez, which handled a record 50.3 million passengers in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic and is located in Mexico City, is one of the busiest airports in Latin America.
Felipe Angeles, named after a general in the Mexican Revolution, divided opinion from the start.
After taking office in 2018, Lopez Obrador canceled another airport project launched by the previous government that was already one-third complete.
He called the $13 billion project a “bottomless pit” plagued by corruption and instead decided to turn the Santa Lucia military air base into a second airport for the sprawling Mexican capital.
Lopez Obrador has commissioned the military to oversee construction of the new airport at a cost of around $3.7 billion.
The military is also involved in the construction of a tourist train in the Yucatan Peninsula, another of the president’s major infrastructure projects, which also includes an oil refinery in the southeastern state of Tabasco. from the country.
Lopez Obrador hailed the new airport as an example of his government’s austerity and efficiency, with zero cost overruns.
“It is a modern airport built by military engineers in record time, at low cost and with the most advanced technology and quality materials,” he said before the opening.
Airport officials acknowledge that Felipe Angeles is not expected to be profitable until 2026.
In the meantime, it will be financed by public money.
Voters have their say
The opening comes as Mexicans prepare to vote on April 10 in a referendum championed by Lopez Obrador on whether to stay in power.
While the president argues the vote is an important democratic exercise, critics accuse him of wasting resources and even conspiring to circumvent the constitutional limit of a single six-year term.
Lopez Obrador, who took office in December 2018, has vowed not to run again, following accusations from opponents that the referendum is a step towards a bid to stay in power.
He enjoys a public approval rating of around 58%, according to opinion polls.
Lopez Obrador has overseen a series of referendums since taking office on controversial issues, including his “Maya Train” railroad project and the cancellation of Mexico City’s partially completed airport.
Felipe Angeles Airport will begin operating with just eight daily flights from national airlines Volaris, VivaAerobus and Aeromexico, as well as Venezuela’s Conviasa – the only international service.
On Friday, Lopez Obrador said he had personally invited the president of Delta Air Lines to operate from the new hub, although it is unclear whether the US carrier will agree.
Benito Juarez’s location in eastern Mexico City is much more convenient for many residents of the capital than Felipe Angeles, which is located about 40 kilometers north of the city’s historic district.
A planned rail link to connect the airport to the capital’s commuter rail network is not expected to be completed until the second half of 2023.
The government admits it will take longer to get to Felipe Angeles, so they have promised to reduce check-in time.