News, features, and commentary from the biggest city in the Americas, Mexico City.
After decades of waiting, it looks like Mexico City may finally get the new airport it needs.
As we had previously reported on these pages, a new airport for Mexico City has been in the works for some time. In fact, the idea of a new airport has been on the back burner going back a few decades. And then in 2002, President Vicente Fox had things rolling for the development of a new facility in the suburban state of Mexico, east of the existing airport in the Lake Texcoco area — that is, until area farmers armed with machetes put a stop to it.
Fast forward 12 years and what’s happening? President Enrique Peña Nieto has now announced a new airport — to be built, interestingly enough, more or less where it was to have been constructed back in 2002. (What’s a 12-year delay in the grand scheme of things anyway?)
The land to be used is adjacent to the Mexico City’s existing Benito Juarez International Airport (MEX), and is already owned by the government. (FYI, the new airport will retain the “Benito Juarez” name.) According to plans, the new airport will feature three sets of parallel runways. (The current airport has just one set of parallel runways, inconveniently built too close to one another at that, making simultaneous takeoffs and landings impossible.)
From 31.5 Million to 120 Million Passengers
The biggest problem at the current airport is saturation — it’s at its limit. Last year, it handled 31.5 million passengers, a new record for the airport. (And the growth is continuing, as the last 12 months show it has surpassed the 33 million mark.) The lack of available landing slots has meant that some airlines are unable to even acquire the rights to fly here.
Put quite simply — the airport is full. They are already handling more takeoffs and landings per day than what is deemed “full capacity”.
The new facility is to be designed with continued serious growth in mind, allowing it to (eventually, in theory) serve up to 120 million passengers per year, or four times the current level. (By comparison, the world’s busiest airport, Atlanta’s Hartsfield International Airport, last year handled 94 million customers.)
The other issue that would be addressed by a new airport is the ability to handle the world’s biggest commercial airliner, the Airbus A380. At present, MEX is incapable of receiving the jumbo jet. As it is, millions of dollars in renovations would be needed to be done before Emirates could even land their A380s here. (It has also been reported that Lufthansa and Air France have expressed interest in using the big planes to Mexico City, when possible.)
The new airport is projected to cost USD$9.15 billion. Some are suggesting that phase one could be ready by as early as the fall of 2018 or early 2019 — in other words, as soon as four years from now.
All we know is that given the kind of budgeting that goes on with Mexican governments, you’ll have to forgive us from expecting an on-time, on-budget delivery. (Anybody remember atrociously over-budget — and 15 months too late — Estela de Luz?)
Who Will Build the Airport?
Seven consortiums presented proposals for the new airport. The winning bid is headed by renowned British architect Norman Foster, of Foster + Partners, and Mexico’s Fernando Romero, of FR-EE. Foster is an award-winning architect, who has worked on some major projects across the globe, including airports in Beijing and Hong Kong, and the new Wembley Stadium.
As for Romero, he and his company designed Mexico City’s Museo Soumaya, the striking museum owned by Mexican magnate Carlos Slim (aka, the world’s richest man), and named in honor of his daughter, Soumaya — who just so happens to be married to a certain Fernando Romero. Now that’s how to keep the family business within the family!
We will at this time leave it to our readers to speculate whether political connections might have had anything to do with Slim’s son-in-law being part of the successful bid. That said, we will not neglect to point out that Slim is the owner of IDEAL, one of the largest construction outfits in the country, and which happens to work on an awful lot of public works projects. So, who do you think will get the contracts to do the actual construction work? Hmmm … tough question!
As for design specifics, we’ve seen some futuristic-looking artists depictions of the the new airport. It is to prominently feature Mexican symbols, including serpents, a cactus garden, and other elements of the pre-hispanic era.
Phase one will feature one giant terminal, with 95 gates, and room for another 42 remote gates (where you board the plane from the tarmac), and three of the eventual six runways. This will allow for a capacity of 50 million passengers per year, which, officials suggest, will be sufficient until 2028. The capacity to reach the 120 million mark will come in the phase(s) beyond that point.
According to the chief architect, Norman Foster, the new terminal will not have a flat roof, nor vertically straight walls, nor columns. Interesting.
The video below is from the architects:
In the Meantime
Until the new airport takes shape, we will continue to use the very cramped existing Benito Juarez International Airport, with its two terminals and two non-efficient runways.
We can also expect to see more flights operating out of Toluca Airport, as a means of alleviating pressure at MEX. Construction has already begun on a train connection between Observatorio and Toluca (Tren Interurbano México-Toluca), which will feature a stop by Toluca Airport (a shuttle will take you from the station to the terminal). Thus, we are in store for easier and faster connections if we prefer to fly out of this suburban airport. Just don’t ask us when this train project will be finished — we have no idea.