Mexico City’s new airport gets tangled up in presidential politics

Global Business

Latin America is benefiting from a boom in air travel. Last year, nearly 250 million people boarded flights. Mexico City has grand plans for a state-of-the art airport to meet growing demand. But the project is getting tangled up in national politics, ahead of Sunday’s elections.

Construction is well underway for Mexico City’s giant new airport, which will have the capacity to handle 125 million passengers a year. When it opens for business in 2020, it’s expected to be the world’s third largest airport and the biggest in the Americas– larger than Chicago O’Hare, LAX and Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson.

The cost to build it — $14 billion. That’s more expensive than the construction of Beijing’s gigantic Daxing airport.

Mexico City’s current aviation facility, Benito Juarez International, is already Latin America’s busiest. Last year, it handled 46 million passengers. But transportation experts say it has long been operating at 50 percent over capacity.

“There is a consistent argument that Mexico City actually needed an airport 15 or 20 years ago. We delayed this decision mostly because political hurdles about the issue, but we have been needing a new airport for a very long time,” said Manuel Molano  with the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness.

Protesting farmers clashed with federal police back in 2001, and successfully blocked a first attempt to build a new international airport for the Mexican capital.

Earlier this year, presidential candidate and frontrunner, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador opposed the new airport, saying powerful business interests including Mexico’s richest man, Carlos Slim, convinced the current government to pay for it.

“Our country is not in a position to pay and invest so much money to solve a problem that we can address it in another way. They had their way when the decision came to make this airport,” said Lopez Obrador.

But Mexico’s largest transportation project in decades has advanced so much, that it appears no politician can stop it from being built. Lopez Obrador says if he wins Sunday’s election, one of his first acts as president will be to get private investors to pay for the mega-venture. 

Mark Weiss discusses airport building & the role of airports in the economy

CGTN’s Rachelle Akuffo spoke with Mark Weiss, director of International Operations Reagan AeroTech about the role of airports in local and regional economies.