Plans for Mexico City’s New Airport

By Julie Etra

Mexico City’s airport is fast becoming obsolete and inefficient, and being a major Latin American hub for business and tourism, the government has been painfully aware of the need for a new, modern facility for years. And having just flown through Distrito Federal (D.F., Mexico City) on my way to Huatulco, I can personally attest to this need. Although Terminal 2 is not even a decade old, the existing facility has reached capacity and planning for the new airport goes back to the administration of Vicente Fox. Statistics show that in 2012 the Benito Juárez International Airport served a record 29.5 million passengers, by far the country’s busiest airport. The facility has outgrown its location and as has occurred in many circumstances elsewhere in the world, the city has grown up and around the airport since its construction in the 1920s. With only two poorly laid out runways, simultaneous takeoffs and landings are precluded, greatly limiting service.

Construction of the new airport will cost $169 billion MXN (approximately $10.2 billion US at today’s rate) and will be able to serve up to 120 million passengers annually when the project is completed. It will be one of the largest infrastructure projects ever undertaken by the country. Completion of the first phase is anticipated by October 2020. The group overseeing the project expects no delays to the commencement of the first stage of the construction (I remain skeptical). Initial work is scheduled to start December 3, 2015, with site grading.

So who will finance this project, where will it be built, who are the designers, and what will it feature? Financing will come from the existing airport coffers and the Federal Government. After analyzing all the options it will be built next to the adjacent facility on the shores of the ancient Lago Texcoco, a mere 10 km from the existing airport, and not at an expanded facility. Initial costs are estimated at $169,000 million MXN (which seems low to me). The design team is being lead by Foster + Partners, an architecture and planning firm headquartered in London but with offices worldwide, in partnership with the FR-EE, the architecture firm of Fernando Romero, son-in-law of the entrepreneur Carlos Slim. Norman Foster has a personal interest in the project, since he has been a pilot since the age of 18. One of Romero’s best-known projects is the new, super sleek Museo Soumaya.

The award of the design contract took place on September 2, 2104 following an analysis of eight proposals over eight months. Foster and his firm actually sought out the much younger Romero to bring a fresh and intrinsically Mexican perspective to the project.

Central to the design are the symbols that occur on the Mexican flag; the golden eagle (Aguila Real) and the serpent and the building is meant to be a celebration of Mexican monuments and culture. Circulation will be open and easy and on one level, with 96 gates. The airport is projected to generate 5,000 direct or indirect jobs for every million passengers and with the anticipated capacity of 120 million passengers per year, a huge generator of new revenue. It is designed to surpass Atlanta, Georgia, currently the busiest airport in the world.

This state-of-the-art airport will be the first carbon neutral facility outside of Europe and will include 100% recycling of water. A LEED-certified and sustainable facility, heating and cooling will be minimized due to the mild climate and ambient temperature in Mexico City throughout most of the year. Design is very site specific, taking into account soils, access, etc., and construction will be simple but very sophisticated using lightweight material and special glues to allow for large expanses of the dome exterior. President Peña Nieto has stated that the airport also includes the construction of aerospace and aviation universities, as well as a new housing development. It will be built in two phases with three parallel runways in the first phase and ultimately six runways, becoming the ‘crown jewel’ of the President’s infrastructure projects.

Contractors include the consortium of the Dutch company Netherlands Airport Consultants and the Mexican companies Grupo SACMAG and TADCO Constructora.

Netherlands Airport Consultants was established in 1949 and has provided services to 550 airports in over 100 countries, according to its website. Services range from environmental impact studies, interior design, retrofits, security, and financial and business advisory services to airports. Clients include the airports of Abu Dhabi, Athens, Bangkok, Beijing, Bogotá, Cairo, Cape Town, Frankfurt, Geneva, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Kuwait, Shanghai, and Singapore.

SACMAG itself is comprised of seven companies including Geoambiente, which is tasked with environmental protection and restoration. With over 500 employees it was responsible for overseeing the improvements by ASUR at the Cozumel Airport. It also operates in Costa Rica, Puerto Rico and the United States. Information regarding its finances or its board of directors are not readily available to the general pubic.

TADCO has more than 25 years of experience in engineering, and management of major infrastructure projects including aeronautics (design and management of runways, heliports and terminals) in different states of Mexico, including Veracruz, Sinaloa, Durango, and Oaxaca.

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