The new Mexico City airport will include a museum of paleontology, a housing complex for the military and a terminal with lucha libre– themed bathrooms. What is not yet clear is how many passengers will choose to use it.
Felipe Ángeles International Airport, located about 40 kilometers from the city center, will only offer seven passenger lines when it opens on Monday. Airline industry experts said crucial access infrastructure and more business incentives are still missing.
Felipe Ángeles’ only international flight will be with Venezuelan airline Conviasa to Caracas. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said on Friday he had spoken with executives of US airline Delta, which owns a stake in national airline Aeromexico, and was considering adding flights. Delta declined to comment.
Mexico’s capital – with a metropolitan area home to more than 20 million people – has had an aviation headache for decades as policymakers failed to increase capacity.
One of López Obrador’s first acts as president was to scrap a $13 billion partially constructed airport designed by Norman Foster, which he said was mired in corruption, a move that rocked investors and signaled that his radical promises were not just election rhetoric.
López Obrador instead continued the more modest project of Felipe Ángeles, named after a revolutionary general. Like its other infrastructure plans, it was built by the military. After two and a half years of construction, local media estimate the building will cost around 115 billion pesos ($5.6 billion).
“This project will benefit many people, not just those who live in Las Lomas,” López Obrador said Friday, referring to a high-income neighborhood in the capital. “Step by step [the airlines] will come and they will take all the space in the new airport.
A lack of air capacity has long held back the capital’s economic growth and business leaders and economists say the decision to choose a network of medium-sized airports over a large hub would continue to hurt investment.
“In the best case, if it’s successful. . .[Felipe Ángeles is]a medium-sized airport is not proportionate to the needs of Mexico City,” said Luis de la Calle, a member of Aeromexico’s board of directors who spoke in his capacity as an economic consultant.
“The main beneficiaries of Mexico City not having a major airport are airports in other parts of Mexico and other places in the United States,” he added.
Mexico City airport handled 50 million passengers in 2019, roughly the same as Britain’s Gatwick airport. The Mexican government said Felipe Ángeles would initially have a capacity of 20 million passengers, but airline executives said it needed strong financial incentives to keep ticket prices low as well as access routes and of a train to develop.
On Thursday, just days before it opened, hundreds of construction workers were still working on partially constructed bridges and roads and digging ditches; not all work will be completed in time for the official launch.
The government says a train carrying passengers from the airport to and from the city center in 39 minutes will be ready in the second half of 2023.
“Airports in other parts of the world that are connected by train work very well,” said Juan Carlos Zuazua, managing director of Mexican low-cost airline VivaAerobus, who cited Stansted in London as an example.
The passenger tax at Felipe Ángeles airport will be half that of Mexico City airport. But given its similar operating costs, combined with initially slower and more expensive transportation from large swathes of the city, airlines would need more incentives to attract passengers, airline executives said. ‘industry.
Zuazua said the project would work but the government needed to provide good incentives and connectivity. “It will be a success but in the middle [or] in the long term, it won’t be overnight.
The commercial strategy of the airport will be in the hands of the army, which López Obrador has also entrusted with critical infrastructure, from trains to ports.
Raúl Benítez Manaut, a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico who has studied the country’s security forces, said López Obrador sees the military as more honest and efficient than bureaucrats. However, their ability to operate large-scale infrastructure is unproven and comes with governance risks.
“They have the ability to administer resources to build things, but not to run a business,” he said. “It’s the militarization of areas that should be civilian. . . it’s bad for a democracy. The Mexican Defense Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
Like airlines around the world, Mexican carriers have been upended by the coronavirus pandemic. Aeromexico has just emerged from bankruptcy protection, while low-cost airline Interjet is also being restructured.
Last year, the US Federal Aviation Administration downgraded Mexico’s aviation safety rating, meaning it cannot add new flights to its main international destination. Airline executives have said they expect the country to be modernized again in the coming months.
VivaAerobus’ Zuazua said the industry was ready to increase flights at the new airport if it made business sense – but the government could not force the issue. “Ultimately, we are responding to consumer demand.”