Pena Nieto Weighing New Airport as Mexico City Pushes Limits

Mexico is studying a plan to build a new airport for its capital, among other potential measures, to alleviate congestion in the busiest hub in Latin America, President Enrique Pena Nieto said.

Plans under consideration include replacing Benito Juarez International and expanding airports near Mexico City such as in Toluca and Puebla, Pena Nieto said in an interview yesterday in London. He said the government may opt to overhaul the existing Mexico City airport, which traces its roots to an airfield that was built in 1928 and later updated.

The capital’s airport surpassed its hourly limit on takeoffs and landings by an average of once a week last year, according to the Ministry of Communications and Transportation, which is in talks with airlines to move more flights to non-peak times. Mexican carriers including Grupo Aeromexico SAB pushed aircraft purchasing to a record in 2012 as the nation’s air passenger traffic rose at the fastest pace since 2007.

“It’s evident that Mexico City’s airport is saturated,” Pena Nieto said. “It’s evident that we need to take precautions already and we’re doing studies and evaluations related to the eventual modernization of the current airport, or the possibility of building a new airport.”

He didn’t provide details for when the government will decide whether to build a new airport, how much investment would be required, where the project would be located or how it would be paid for.

Cost Estimate

A new airport may cost between $4 billion and $5 billion, with additional money needed for supporting infrastructure such as roads, subways and water treatment plants, according to Luis Zarate, president of the Mexican Construction Industry Chamber, a trade group representing builders.

Mexico City’s airport handled a record 29.5 million passengers last year, more than twice the traffic at Cancun airport, the nation’s second-biggest by passengers, according to data compiled by the communications and transportation ministry.

Measured by takeoffs and landings, the Mexico City airport’s 32,185 aircraft movements in January ranked 23rd in the world, between New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport and Tokyo’s Haneda airport, according to Airports Council International.

Failed Airport

One of Pena Nieto’s predecessors, former President Vicente Fox, proposed a $3 billion airport project in Texcoco, east of Mexico City. Fox abandoned the project amid opposition from machete-wielding farmers who lived in the area.

“The airport issue has been under discussion for 30 years or more,” Fernando Gomez, an independent aviation analyst in Mexico City, said in a telephone interview. “Pena Nieto has the opportunity now to resolve the airport problem and develop a very ambitious project of infrastructure development.”

Mexico’s air passenger traffic reached a record 56.8 million last year, 8.3 percent more than in 2011, according to the communications and transportation ministry.

Aeromexico announced the largest aircraft order in Mexican history in July, agreeing to buy 100 planes from Boeing Co. with a list value of about $11 billion. The order consists of 90 737 Max single-aisle jets and 10 wide-body Dreamliners.

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