Two months before it is due to open with just a handful of confirmed flights, workers are racing to finish a new international airport for Mexico City — one of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s flagship projects.
With two commercial runways built on a military air base outside the capital, Felipe Angeles International Airport is meant to take the pressure off the city’s Benito Juarez airport.
The existing hub, which handled 36 million passengers in 2021, is one of the busiest in Latin America.
Its location in eastern Mexico City is far more convenient for many residents of the capital than Felipe Angeles, which is located about 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of the capital’s historic district.
But Benito Juarez airport is showing its age and handled a record 50.3 million passengers in 2019 before the Covid-19 pandemic.
Felipe Angeles airport, named after a general in the Mexican revolution, has been engulfed in controversy from the start.
After taking office in 2018, Lopez Obrador canceled another airport project launched by the previous government and already one-third complete.
He called the $13 billion project a “bottomless pit” rife with corruption and decided instead to turn the Santa Lucia military air base into a second airport for the sprawling Mexican capital.
Lopez Obrador commissioned the military — which is also involved in other pet projects of his government, such as a tourist train in the Yucatan Peninsula — to oversee construction of the new airport at a cost of around $3.6 billion.
On a recent visit to the Santa Lucia airport, construction workers were seen putting the finishing touches to the inside of the new terminal building, while cleaners swept floors and cleaned windows.
The gleaming toilets are decorated with images of traditional mariachi music and wrestling.
In other areas, notably the access roads that will link the terminal building to the highway, dozens of laborers worked with trucks and machinery to complete the project in time.
A planned rail link to connect the airport with the capital’s suburban train network is not scheduled to be completed until the second half of 2023.
– ‘Giving it a chance’ –
Around 87 percent of the airport construction has been finished with two months left before the March 21 opening, said Captain Diego Diaz Avila of the military’s engineer corps.
In its first phase of operation, the new airport will be able to handle 19.5 million passengers a year, he told AFP.
But so far, only low-cost Mexican airlines Volaris and Viva Aerobus have announced plans to operate a small number of flights at the new airport, with most staying at Benito Juarez.
Aeromexico, the country’s largest carrier, has declined to use the new airport in the initial phase.
The airlines are not ready to shift significant operations to the new terminal, said Brian Rodriguez, an aviation analyst at the financial firm Monex.
“They’re giving it a chance to operate there to see the costs, demand and how profitable it can be,” he said.
Given that Felipe Angeles is located outside the city, the airlines that do use the new airport will seek to attract the several million people living in the surrounding area, added Rodriguez.
AFP contacted the main international airlines that operate in Mexico — British Airways, Air France, Iberia, Lufthansa and American Airlines — to ask if they plan to use the new terminal.
Only American Airlines responded, saying there were no changes to 13 daily flights between Mexico City and the United States.