Aviation policy and airport infrastructure; reality has other data

The lack of a long-term aviation policy is not exclusively attributable to the present administration. For decades, the sector has been requesting the implementation of a holistic policy on the matter, which meets the needs of the industry and, transversally, of those sectors of the economy closely linked to the aeronautical industry.

However, it is convenient to locate ourselves in the current reality and in the decisions adopted during this administration and at least try to anticipate what the immediate future of the airport sector in the Valley of Mexico may hold.

A consultation without methodological rigor and without any legal basis determined that it was convenient to cancel the airport project in Texcoco. This despite the fact that, for decades, practically all the serious feasibility studies had shown that the only viable alternative to build a long-term airport solution for the Valley of Mexico was precisely Texcoco.

In parallel, before the cancellation of said project, whose progress was greater than 30%, the government leaned towards the reconfiguration of the aerodrome located in Santa Lucia, a military air base.

In this process of airport reconfiguration in the Valley of Mexico, we were surprised by Covid-19. On the threshold of the greatest impact in the history of aviation, international organizations made very specific recommendations to the governments of the countries, basically consisting of (i) suspending investments in new airport infrastructure projects, and (ii) allocating resources to support the airlines.

In Mexico, these recommendations were not heeded. On the contrary, resources associated with the cancellation of the project in Texcoco and the forced construction of the project in Santa Lucía continued to be spent. For its part, the levels of government support for airlines were comparable to those of African countries.

The situation of saturation in the operations of the Mexico City International Airport (AICM) is not new. Since November 2014, the declaration of saturation in the airfield was issued, limiting maximum operations to 61 hours, with a maximum of 40 arrivals and a separation of 4 nautical miles between aircraft. On March 3 of this year, a resolution was issued that also declared the saturation of the terminal buildings of the AICM itself, with the idea of ​​starting passenger management through the Felipe Ángeles International Airport (AIFA).

Unlike the AIFA, the NAICM project (which did bring together the consensus of the main players in the sector), presupposed definitively closing the operations of the AICM. When the Texcoco project was canceled, the idea of ​​keeping alive an airport that had already been showing clear and worrying signs of frank deterioration was returned to.

The main income of an airport is what is known as airport use fee (TUA). In the case of the AICM, the TUA represented 65% of its income at the end of 2021. The entire TUA collection must be transferred to a trust for the service of the MexCat Bonds, issued to finance part of the Texcoco project, whose validity exceeds the next 20 years with a value of 168 billion pesos.

In simple words, the most important income of the AICM is condemned for more than twenty years to serve the debt of a canceled, non-existent project.

Incidents in aviation security have been recurrent and publicized in recent days. To date, there is no certification issued by an international authority or organization on the matter that certifies, in a definitive and forceful way, that AICM and AIFA can operate simultaneously and at maximum capacity in the airspace of the Valley of Mexico without risk.

The outlook is not promising. A dying airport (in operational and financial terms) coexisting with another whose capabilities do not represent a real solution in the medium term.

Improvisation has limits. Sometimes, the stubborn reality has other data.

*Juan Carlos Machorro is a leading partner in the transactional practice of Santamarina y Steta.

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