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Mexico City’s New Airport Off to Slow Start

Madhu Unnikrishnan
March 21st, 2022 at 3:38 PM EDT

The first flight from Mexico City’s new airport took off on March 21, but whether the new facility can relieve congestion at the capital’s main airport remains to be seen.

Felipe Angeles International Airport, located about 28 miles (45 km) from Mexico City, opened with an Aeromexico flight to Villahermosa. In all, the airport will handle eight commercial departures on its first day: two flights by Aeromexico, three by Volaris, and two by VivaAerobus, Cirium data show. Venezuela’s Conviasa operated one flight to Caracas. In addition, the airport is handling two private flights and two cargo flights.

But the airport has grand ambitions. It’s opening with three runways capable of handling “any aircraft flying now,” including Airbus A380s and Boeing 747s, General Gustavo Vallejo, head of the military engineers in charge of the airport’s construction, told reporters on March 21. Felipe Angeles will open with 28 gates and, including remote stands, can accommodate up to 45 aircraft, Vallejo said. The airport can handle up to 20 million passengers.

The airport is built on a former military base in Santa Lucia, and the military remains in charge of its administration. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has long championed the Santa Lucia facility as an alternative to Mexico City. But before he took office at the end of 2018, work had already progressed on a $13 billion airport project closer to the city. The president made good on a campaign pledge to cancel that project, which he deemed wasteful, despite more than $2 billion in work already completed.

Lopez Obrador, who ran on a populist platform, said then the new Mexico City airport under construction would serve wealthier parts of the catchment area, especially when compared with Santa Lucia, which is not as affluent as much of the capital region. He reiterated that belief on March 21 by saying Felipe Angeles would connect a part of the capital region that has traditionally been underserved.

There is broad consensus that Mexico City’s Benito Juarez International Airport is congested. The two-runway airport handled 36 million passengers last year — and more than 50 million in 2019 — and is Latin America’s busiest. It is slot-constrained and airlines have long battled for access to the airport; Mexicana’s bankruptcy 10 years ago touched off a feeding frenzy for its slots. But there has been no consensus on where a new airport should be. The previous administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto pushed the project that Lopez Obrador cancelled.

Airlines are skeptical about the Santa Lucia location. First, it was a military site, which raised questions about its suitability for commercial operations. Second, what Lopez Obrador sees as a benefit in terms of an underserved catchment may not ring as true for airline executives. Volaris CEO Enrique Beltranena pointed out last year that the immediate area is not as affluent as those of Benito Juarez or Toluca, the latter a reliever airport to Mexico City’s west. Finally, existing infrastructure makes access difficult.

However, the Mexican government aims to alleviate that last concern, Lopez Obrador said on March 21. The highway between Mexico City and Felipe Angeles is being widened to double its current size. A new rapid bus line connects the city center with the airport. And, in 2023, a new train line will connect the airport terminal to the city center in about 40 minutes, the president said. The military is in charge of its construction.

Other than Conviasa, no international airlines have announced plans to fly from Felipe Angeles. Cirium schedules show the domestic airlines that launched flights from Felipe Angeles today have no plans to increase frequencies through June.

Edward Russell contributed to this story.

Madhu Unnikrishnan
March 21st, 2022 at 3:38 PM EDT

Photo credit: Viva Aerobus was among the airlines that began flights to Mexico City's new Felipe Angeles airport on March 21. Viva Aerobus

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