Mexico City Is Expected to Get a New Airport in 2020, Will It Happen?

I briefly visited Mexico City this past August after discovering that I could try out Aeromexico’s fantastic new Boeing 787-9 on the airline’s New York-JFK to Mexico City route. On the approach into Mexico City International Airport, I caught fantastic views of the city and the neighborhoods around it. However, on my flight out of Mexico City International Airport, something unusual caught my eye.

Mexico City on Approach Into MEX Airport

Mexico City on Approach Into MEX Airport

As my Airbus a319 climbed out of Mexico City, I aggressively surveyed the landscape below. I’m a window seat guy and tend to stay glued to the window. During the climb out, as the aircraft left the cityscape behind, I noticed a massive swatch of discolored land. I focused in on this rectangular patch hoping to make out some distinguishing features. I then began to put two and two together. A narrow outline with white stripes down the center confirmed what I thought this patch of land was.

It was the site of Mexico City’s New International Airport.

Mexico City’s Slated to Get a New $13.3 Billion Airport and You’ve Probably Never Heard Of It

From Dubai to Panama City, there are some pretty amazing and truly mind-blowing new airports going up around the world. Even the New York Port Authority’s efforts to build an airport over a pre-existing airport is pretty awesome. Stunning construction projects like Dubai’s World Central Airport and LaGuardia’s Airport-Over-An-Airport typically get quite a bit of press coverage. Given widespread press coverage of major construction projects like Dubai’s $82 billion World Central Airport and Berlin’s failed Brandeburgh Airport, I was surprised to learn that Mexico City is planning to construct a massive $13.3 billion airport just outside of the city.

Mexico City’s New International Airport, aka NAICM

Like Berlin’s Brandenburg Airport, Mexico City’s new international airport is also very much so behind schedule. While Brandenburg Airport is now 9 years behind schedule, Mexico City’s new airport is actually over a decade behind schedule. Plans for the new airport were first announced in 2001 and construction was set to begin shortly after the announcement, however, things did not go as planned. I’ll address the issues back in the early 2000s later. Now, nearly 16 years later, construction has begun on the new airport.

The current new Mexico City international airport was actually announced back in 2014. After two years of planning, construction is well underway.

As you can tell from the photos above, the airport is still very much so in the early stages of construction. I’m no expert when it comes to construction projects but I can’t imagine they’ll complete this airport by 2020.

By 2020, Mexico’s government hopes to have phase 1 completed. Phase 1 will consist of three independent runways and an 8 million square foot terminal that will have a capacity of 68 million passengers. By 2065 (I’ll be 66 years old), the airport will feature two main terminals, two satellite terminals, and six runways for a capacity of 120 million passengers. That would make Mexico City’s new international airport the second largest in the world at the time.

It truly is an impressive construction project. It’s one of those projects that makes me step back and think to myself, “humans are amazing.” The price tag reflects the magnitude of the project. Right now, estimates are that it will take $13.3 billion USD to complete the new airport. However, I’m not aware of any airport construction project that stayed within its targeted budget.

Here are a few renderings of the new airport. It looks beautiful and will be a major step up from Mexico City’s current airport which is one of the worst airports I’ve traveled through. It is worth noting that Mexico’s government has yet to make plans for a new highway so there are initial estimates that traveling to and from the airport could take well over an hour and a half.

Video: Overview of The New Mexico City Airport

Protests, Civil Unrest, and Two Fatalities Linked to The New Airport

I’m no stranger to NIMBY protests and demonstrations. For those of you that don’t know what NIMBY is, it’s an acronym that stands for “Not In My Backyard.” It’s commonly used in the United States after a proposed construction project raises concerns about increased traffic or noise pollution. NIMBY is one of the main reasons Amtrak high-speed rail can’t expand in densely populated areas and NIMBY has lead to many project casualties in my hometown of St. Louis. However, the NIMBY protests and demonstrations that followed the 2001 announcement of the new Mexico City airport make the town hall meetings here in the US filled with angry senior citizens look like nothing.

Following then-President Fox’s announcement regarding the new airport, residents of Atenco and Texcoco took to the streets. Residents of San Salvador Atenco formed the Community Front in Defense of Land to combat the government’s plan to displace thousands to make way for the new airport.

2016 Anti-Airport Protests (Image: La Jornada/Javier Salinas)

2016 Anti-Airport Protests (Image: La Jornada/Javier Salinas)

Demonstrations did manage to prolong and delay initial construction. In late 2002, protests and civil unrest grew so violent and regular that Mexico went ahead and dropped plans to construct the new airport. However, that wasn’t the end of the government’s pursuit to build a new airport. Mexico’s government shaved off 2,000 acres from the new airport site (bringing it down to the current 10,000-acre plot) which meant very few residents would be displaced. A new road and highway leading to the airport, which had not been scrapped from the plans, would, however, displace hundreds if not thousands.

Protests resumed leading to a boiling point in which police sexually assaulted residents of the nearby municipalities. In the end, two civilians were murdered and some foreign press were expelled from Mexico. The events that took place in 2006, now known as the San Salvador Atenco Massacre, were only partly related to the airport. Again, following the massacre, the plans for a new airport were put on hold.

Moving Forward With a New Desing, Proposal

Finally, in 2014, Mexico’s government was able to come up with a proposal and design that displaced very few residents. Protests returned, however, the demonstrations were much smaller and short-lived. For now, it appears as if the airport is moving ahead more than a decade behind schedule.

If you’ve ever flown in or out of Mexico City’s current airport, you know just how badly a new airport is needed. Mexico City’s current airport was built for way less than 44 million passengers which is the annual number of passenger that currently travel through the airport. Additionally, the airport features just two runways that receive constant use. Taxiways and tarmacs are in need of repair and the airport is located in a densely populated area of the city. A new airport is essential for Mexico City.

An Interjet Sukhoi 100 at Mexico City International Airport

An Interjet Sukhoi 100 at Mexico City International Airport

It will be interesting to see how construction pans out. Just observing the construction of similar projects like the Berlin Brandenburg Airport lead me to expect multiple delays. Moreso, the people of Atenco and Texcoco have every right to be concerned about their cities. I would not be surprised if noise pollution and traffic become an issue, fueling additional protests and civil unrest. Still, I’m optimistic that Mexico City will get the beautiful and modern airport it’s been working to build for over thirty years.

Were you aware that Mexico City was slated to get such a large and expensive new airport? Do you think the Mexican government can complete the project by 2020?

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View for Mexico City's Current Airport

View for Mexico City’s Current Airport