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Federal government proposes expanding Mexico City Airport; environmental groups oppose plan.

The federal government has proposed expanding the Mexico City airport in an easterly direction, constructing new facilities on land that the federal government has acquired near Lago de Texcoco in Mexico state. The proposal has met with resistance from environmental groups and from the former director of the Comision Nacional del Agua (CONAGUA), who fear that authorities will move forward without considering the consequences for the environment. Environmental advocates warn that the expansion could disrupt the migratory patterns of birds and threaten the water-distribution system for Mexico City and parts of Mexico state.

Airport operating at full capacity

Communications and Transportation Secretary Gerardo Ruiz Esparza announced the proposed expansion of the Mexico City airport, formally known as the Aeropuerto Internacional de la Ciudad de Mexico (AICM), at a press conference in Mexico City in December 2013. Ruiz Esparza said a group of specialists has been studying the problems of the AICM, which is operating at its capacity, and recommended an expansion of the facility. "We have received the recommendation to expand the airport's operation capacity on government-owned land east of the facility," said the federal official.

A previous plan presented in 2001 had proposed constructing an entirely new terminal, also near Lago de Texcoco (SourceMex, Oct. 31, 2001). Strong opposition from area residents ultimately prevented ex-President Vicente Fox's administration from proceeding with the project (SourceMex, July 17, 2002).

A second terminal was opened at the Mexico City airport in 2007, but the project was expensive. Furthermore, construction of the new facility did little to alleviate congested air traffic because no new runways were included in the project.

Project would include new runways

Ruiz Esparza said the new expansion could take place on part of the nearly 5,000 hectares owned by the federal government near Lago de Texcoco. The plan proposes constructing several new terminals and runways next to the existing facility, and the presence of multiple runways would allow for simultaneous landings.

Ruiz Esparza said the project, which could begin sometime in 2014, would take an estimated 10 to 12 years to complete. Several engineering companies have been hired to design the expansion, but those proposals have not yet been presented to the Secretaria de Comunicaciones y Transportes (SCT).

Ruiz Esparza said he was aware of opposition from environmental and land-rights groups but emphasized that the project was necessary. "The Mexican capital needs a world-class airport, and, unfortunately, we don't have it," said the secretary.

Luis Zarate, president de la Camara Nacional de la Industria de la Construccion (CMIC), said the expansion would be equivalent to constructing a new airport. He estimated the cost at about US$4 billion.

A large share of the funding would come from fees and rights collected at the existing facility, said Ruiz Esparza.

As expected, the tourism industry in Mexico City wholeheartedly endorsed the project. "Once we are able to modernize the airport and increase its capacity to handle simultaneous landings, we will be able to boost tourism," said Miguel Torruco Marques, tourism secretary in Mexico City Mayor Miguel Mancera's administration.

"We hope that this project is concluded quickly because [the new terminal] will allow us to attract more visitors to Mexico City," said Fidel Ovando, president of the Asociacion Mexicana de Agencias de Viajes del Distrito Federal.

Environmental objections

The airport-expansion project has come under fire from the environmental community and the former CONAGUA director Jose Luis Luege Tamargo, who noted that a similar plan to expand the airport was proposed during former President Felipe Calderon's administration. Luege said he immediately opposed the plan because it would complicate the water-distribution system for northeast Mexico City, worsening an already difficult water-supply situation for the capital (SourceMex, Feb. 6, 2013).

Luege said he presented his objections in a special report to Calderon, in which he said that Lago de Texcoco is the only site to regulate the flow of rivers that run east of Mexico City. If authorities lose this ability, he warned, Mexico City could become very vulnerable in a water emergency, something that is very likely with the advent of global climate change.

The former CONAGUA director also warned about instability of the land where the expansion has been proposed. Some of this land was formerly a part of the lake and is susceptible to sinkage. Furthermore, said Luege, the area is highly vulnerable to flooding from intense storms.

Gustavo Alanis, president of the Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental (CEMDA), suggested that President Enrique Pena Nieto's administration is being too hasty with its plans for the airport and urged that a comprehensive environmental-impact study be conducted. "We cannot launch projects that violate the law and environmental norms," said Alanis. "An expansion of this magnitude requires comprehensive technical and scientific studies to determine whether we proceed with the project."

Araceli Garcia Macias, a representative for the Red Mexicana de Organizacione Campesinas Forestales (Red Mocaf), said another concern is that the expansion could affect the migratory patterns of the Canadian geese and herons that inhabit the nearby Lago Nabor Carrillo wildlife refuge for a part of the year.

Expanding the existing facility would also derail a proposal to construct a new first-class airport in Toluca, the capital of Mexico state, about 65 km from Mexico City. Proponents envision constructing other infrastructure to support the new airport, including a bullet train to connect the Toluca facility with the Mexican capital. "For many people, constructing an airport in Toluca is a simpler solution than the Texcoco expansion," Enrique Campos Suarez said in the Mexico City daily business newspaper El Economista.

Authorities in nearby Hidalgo state have also resurrected their plan to construct an airport somewhere within the state's borders. Hidalgo was one of the locations under consideration before the Fox administration settled on the Texcoco site in 2001 (SourceMex, March 7, 2001). "We are going to continue seeking the concession for a new airport," said state economic development director Jose Pablo Maauad, who pointed out that the facility in Hidalgo could handle both passengers and cargo.
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Comment:Federal government proposes expanding Mexico City Airport; environmental groups oppose plan.
Author:Navarro, Carlos
Publication:SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico
Geographic Code:1MEX
Date:Jan 15, 2014
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