Mexico City's New International Airport: The Ongoing Struggle

Former Mexican President, Enrique Peña Nieto first announced the massive construction of a brand-new airport on September 2nd, 2014. The project was billed as the biggest architectural creation in Mexico within a century.

Mexico City´s New International Airport or NAIM as it is commonly referred to, was set to replace the more than 50 years old “Benito Juarez International Airport” which is considered to be the busiest airport in Latin America, transporting more than 40 million passengers per year.

The project was designed by Arup Group Limited, a globally known engineering company in co-operation with both a Pritzker award winning architect named Norman Foster and Mexican architect Fernando Romero. They anticipated funding for the construction to total 13 billion dollars, money which would have been 60% contributed by the Mexican government through the use of public funds and the remaining 40% with the help of private investors.

The aforestated project was planned in four main stages. The first phase was scheduled to be inaugurated on October 20, 2020, and would have encompassed a main terminal of approximately 700,000 squared meters and three runways.

This first stage would have gathered a figure close to 68 million passengers a year. It is important to note that the completed project would have been inaugurated in the year 2065 with the addition of three more runways, an additional terminal and two satellite terminals, a project which would have supported a flux of about 125 million passengers a year, thus, leading Mexico to be the holder of the second biggest airport in the world.

The interesting part of the story, which you might have actually guessed by now given the use of past tense in all of the article up to this point, is the fact that this project was abruptly cancelled in late 2018.

Presidential elections were held last July, as such resulting in Mexico having a new President and a whole new cabinet entering into office during the last months of the year. Not even two months had passed since Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador had declared himself as the legitimate successor of Peña Nieto and decided to organize a referendum in which he consulted “the people of Mexico” (around 900,000 people voted out of the more than 120 million living in the country) on whether the airport construction should be continued; 69% of the voters rejected the project. It was not until President Andres Manuel officially entered into office that all operations were ceased on the planned airport.

The now cancelled NAIM project which was being built on a 4400 acre space, is approximately 3 miles away from the current airport. Following the cancellation of the project, the current Mexican government is planning on build an airport which would be located at Santa Lucia airbase, a military airport which holds only two runways and lacks a terminal -- this would mean that daily operations will be constantly interrupted by military action.

It is important to point out that this airport, as mentioned, would need a terminal, which will cost a considerable amount of money. Additionally, this airport proposal would not even be able to reach the passenger capacity of even the current airport. This would inevitably result in a massive investment on a project that would serve exactly the same purpose as the one that the city now uses.

Mexico would be going backwards in terms of economic growth, influx of tourists and much more, not to mention the fact that the newly proposed project is located 27 miles away from the original, which converted into driving time would be a 50 minute increase. Up to this point, it is certainly unknown what will happen with NAIM, but it is clear that Mexico may need to rethink their investments.

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