Mexico City airport faces an uncertain future

Bernardo Garcia
Director of Public Works
Hillsborough County
Tampa, Florida

The Republic of Mexico is enjoying a growing role as a major player in the international economic market. The impacts of the North American Free Trade Agreement, expanding maquiladora (foreign factories in Mexico) industries along its border with the United States, and social reforms implemented by the Fox Administration have catapulted trade with Mexico to an all-time high. Mexico has recognized the need to expand and modernize its diverse airport operations if it is to maintain this competitive industrial and commercial growth.

Mexico currently has 1,215 airfields. Among them, 85 airports serve the larger population centers. They are administered by the Airports and Auxiliary Services Division (Aeropuertos y Servicios Auxiliares, or ASA), by three concessionary consortiums, and by numerous other public and private entities. Nearly 60 million domestic and international passengers traveled through Mexico’s airports in 2000. In the past decade alone, the number of passengers has practically doubled, while the movement of cargo has tripled.

Mexico’s 2001-2006 Strategic Transportation Plan includes several objectives related to enhancing its airport infrastructure, with a high priority given to building a new airport that can serve the Mexico City metropolitan area effectively for the next 50 years. The Secretary of Communications and Transportation conducted an extensive study to determine which location in the Mexico City area would be best suited to host a major airport with six runways. The current airport for Mexico City has operated at capacity for years as only one runway can be used at a time, with 21 million passengers passing through in 2000. Traffic is expected to reach 26 million in 2005 and double to 42 million by 2015.

There have been extensive tests and research done on expanding the Benito Juarez Airport, which is only eight miles from the city, but it has been decided that there is not enough space. Three options were identified: (1) The extension of the present airport was seen as unfeasible, due to space, cost and environmental opposition. Built in 1928, the airport was not expected to be so successful and cannot fulfill demand; (2) The second option was to build the new airport at Hidalgo, but this was seen as too far away from Mexico City to gain sufficient investment, and it was thought that it would interfere with flights from a nearby military base. In addition to this, Hildago was estimated to have a fiscal cost of almost ten times as much as Texcoco; (3) The third option was Texcoco, which has been chosen for its long-range use and flexibility. It was seen to be 40 percent cheaper than the alternatives, and technically more feasible.

In October 2001, the Mexican government announced that the new airport would be built in Texcoco at a projected cost of $2 billion. Unfortunately, within the next nine months, a series of unfortunate miscues essentially killed the project at least for the time being. The Department of Agrarian Reform significantly underestimated the fair value of the farmlands that needed to be obtained to proceed with design and construction. The group performing the valuation did not conduct any site visits, and therefore did not include in their estimates of valuation the infrastructure assets built by the farmers inhabiting the land. Indeed, there was no communication, negotiation or dialogue conducted between the government valuation group and the farmers whose land was proposed for condemnation. This notably poor strategic planning may have been an unintended outgrowth of Mexico’s Constitution, as enacted in 1917, which gives the government plenary power to appropriate land for public use without consideration. Additional opposition to the project was expressed by environmental groups who alleged that the project would threaten the habitat of over 77,000 migratory birds.

The project has identified a number of areas for development, including three parallel runways for simultaneous use and three backups in case of overspill. It also includes a major terminal building, three shopping malls, and a hotel and restaurant complex. The designs are based on environmentally sustainable technologies, recycling, and water and waste treatment and reuse. These projects collectively represent one of the largest major investments and developments in the northern hemisphere.

Investment in the area would create a snowball effect, and cause a number of other positive social changes. These include a university, which is scheduled for opening in 2003 and will cover many airport specific fields. It will also involve a hospital and a variety of social care and public security initiatives, including new urban zones, housing and highways. There are already substantial multimodal transportation links available, but will be further developed as the area attracts industry.

On July 11, 2002, the farmers rebelled in a violent confrontation with authorities that involved the taking of hostages by both sides, with death threats by the farmers against their government hostages if protestors arrested by authorities were not released. While no hostages were ultimately injured, the furor raised by the combined opposition was sufficient for President Vicente Fox to announce in August 2002 that the project, which he had strongly supported, was canceled. In response to the cancellation, Airport Director Enrique Gonzalez announced a plan to expand Benito Juarez International Airport to accommodate expected demand for the next ten years.

In 2003, an estimated $35 million will be expended for both new construction and rehabilitation of the existing runways. An additional $8 million will be spent to rehabilitate the airport’s main terminal. Funding will come from a number of sources, including foreign investment. Andy Sampson, who represents a group of seven British investment firms, recently told the Mexican press that his consortium has the financial capability to cover the costs for the expansion of Benito Juarez, as well as expansion of regional airports such as Toluca, Cuernavaca, and Puebla. President Fox now seems to have eased his position on the Texcoco airport project by stating in an interview with CNN that he may be willing to reevaluate that airport site.

To reach Bernardo Garcia, call (813) 307-1702 or send e-mail to


What are some of the first impressions of international visitors to the United States of America? The following may surprise you.

1. The vastness of the U.S.A.
2. Americans are plump.
3. Our hurried pace of life.
4. Our friendly nature.
5. Careless with dress, time, possessions, money, etc.
6. Generous and hospitable.
7. Pursuers of material things.
8. Prone to extremes in emotional expression.
9. Brash and self-indulgent.
10. Embarrassingly ethnocentristic.
11. Imperialistic disregard for other systems.
12. Competitive yet equalitarian.
13. Resourceful, yet focused on the present.
14. Fiercely independent.

Source: Do’s and Taboos of Hosting International Visitors, pp. 24-27.

Cultural Proverbs:

“He who wants a rose must respect the thorn.” — Persian Proverb

“We never know the worth of water until the well is dry.” — French Proverb

“After the game, the king and pawn go in the same box.” — Italian Proverb