Over the years, Mexico has become a very popular country for visitors; especially for those from the United States. In fact, the World Tourism Organization says that Mexico is the sixth-most visited country in the world, and second in the Americas.
There’s little wonder for this…Mexico has a bunch of UNESCO World Heritage sites (ancient ruins, colonial cities, and natural reserves), as well as several famous works of modern public and private architecture. The country offers cultural festivals, colonial cities, nature reserves and beach resorts. On top of that, Mexico’s temperate climate and unique culture (kind of a fusion of the European and the Mesoamerican) are attractive to tourists. So over the past several decades, more and more people have been traveling to Mexico.
With so many visitors, Mexico City’s Benito Juarez Airport (MEX) had become way too congested. To try to make things better, back in 2014, Mexico City Texcoco Airport was announced. It would be about 3 miles from MEX, and was meant to replace the older airport. However, the project was canceled several years later, after it was decided that the new airport should be built at a different location.
Enter Felipe Ángeles International Airport.
Felipe Ángeles International Airport (NLU) was announced in 2019 and opened on March 21, 2022. Instead of replacing MEX, it’s meant to absorb some of its congestion, with a focus on low-cost and cargo airlines.
It’s got, shall we say, some issues. Lots of them.
Unlike Mexico City Texcoco Airport, NLU is nowhere near MEX. For that matter, it’s not even near Mexico City itself. Instead, it’s about 28 miles north-northeast of the center of Mexico City, if you go by car. There are supposed to be highways between NLU and MEX but they’re still under construction. So that leaves only local roads. Annnnd some of those are apparently still dirt roads, especially if you use a GPS.
On top of that, a planned rail link to connect the airport with the capital’s suburban train network isn’t scheduled to be completed until the second half of 2023.
Traffic in Mexico City is notoriously crazy. But Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador wanted to prove that a person could drive from the city to the new airport in just 40 minutes. To ensure he could prove his point, when he left for the inauguration ceremony on Monday, he did so at 5 am…on a national holiday. What a guy, huh? Meanwhile, an online news company took a taxi from Mexico City’s Coyoacán borough to the airport – it took nearly two hours without traffic jams. And another woman, who lives in the Mexico City borough of Iztapalapa, made the trek in (are you sitting down?) four hours.
Meanwhile Uber isn’t available at NLU yet. The ride-hailing giant’s Mexican unit said in a statement to Reuters that it hopes to offer service “in the near future.” Non-airport taxis and other ride-sharing companies also aren’t allowed to enter airport grounds at this time. So transportation to/from this airport that’s multiple miles and hours from town is currently in very short supply.
So how DOES Mexican President López Obrador expect people to travel to/from NLU?
“There will be taxis for everyone, but especially for those with additional financial resources,” the president was quoted in mexicobusiness.news. “We will literally take people from their homes to the airport. The services will be provided through private concessions. This service has been highly requested.” López Obrador suggested that three companies have already requested concessions, which, if approved, will be able to operate with a whopping two helicopters each.
I’m sure that will work out just beautifully.
The airport may have opened this week, but it still hasn’t been certified by Mexico’s Federal Agency of Civil Aviation (AFAC) as meeting safety standards set by the International Air Transportation Association (IATA) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). An airport infrastructure specialist is suggesting that perhaps, “Somebody must have forgotten to do it in time.”
Anyway, without certification, major international airlines haven’t registered to fly to the new airport, because they would run the risk of not being covered by their insurance in the event of an accident. Only one Venezuelan airline has taken a chance on international flights, to Caracas.
So this new “international” airport only has ONE international flight so far. And American, Delta and United’s willingness to fly to NLU even once it’s certified is questionable. When asked about the possibility, an American spokesperson said, “American is currently operating up to 13 daily flights between Benito Juárez International Airport … and the United States. We do not have any changes to our operation to share at this time.” (United and Delta didn’t even respond)
The problem with amenities at NLU is that there simply aren’t any. The only foodservice company in the entire airport right now is a Starbucks – but on opening day it had no food and wasn’t serving coffee. There were also no convenience stores where people could get a candy bar or other snacks to tide them over. So if they were waiting for a ride that they weren’t sure would ever even come, they could wait hungry.
As I mentioned earlier, unlike Texcoco Airport, which was supposed to take the place of Benito Juarez Airport, Felipe Ángeles International Airport is only supposed to absorb some of MEX’s congestion. NLU’s original predicted capacity was supposed to be just shy 20 million passengers per year. But that was based on their airport having the originally-planned 28 gates. It only has 14.
Well, OK then. Can we say cluster?
BTW, this isn’t the first project under Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s watch that’s had issues. He also had grand plans for a tourist train in the Yucatan Peninsula. But when construction on the Maya Train tourist project started, engineers discovered they couldn’t build an elevated stretch along the Caribbean coast, after all. It would mean closing down the region’s only highway. And that would be, you know, bad. So instead, they just began running the line through the jungle.
No comprehensive environmental impact statement. No feasibility plan. Just….do it. Oh, and BTW, nobody knows how many tourists will really use it.
So yeah….for now, the new airport? It’s a mess. Right now only Volaris, Viva Aerobus and Aeromexico, and the aforementioned Conviasa from Venezuela are operating a handful of flights from Felipe Angeles.
Vaya con Dios. For reals.
H/T: Vourthouse News, KSTP.com, WTVB
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