Mexico City’s Abandoned New Airport: What Could Have Been

A few kilometers away from Mexico City International Airport (MEX) lies the abandoned construction of what was supposed to be a new hub of the Mexican capital. The current local government scrapped the project at approximately 30% of progress and instead opted to refurbish a former military base and turn it into a mixed commercial/military airport. Let’s take a look at what could have been and what will now be.

Mexico City’s Abandoned New Airport: What Could Have Been
This is a look at Texcoco’s International Airport. Up to 2018, it was Mexico City’s future hub. It is now scrapped. Photo: Getty Images.

Texcoco airport, a controversial project

The Texcoco versus Santa Lucía airport conversation is a controversial one. Nonetheless, there’s a simple truth for Mexico underlying both projects: its capital needs a new airport urgently. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, MEX was operating beyond its capacity. It was ruled as a saturated hub in 2014.

Therefore, the former Mexican government, under Enrique Peña Nieto, decided to build a new airport. The project began outside of Mexico City, in the former Texcoco lake basin. Foster + Partners, a British architectural firm, won the contract to build the new airport.

Texcoco Airport was supposed to have six runways, and once inaugurated, would have required the complete shutdown of MEX and the immediate transfer of operations. It would have opened in 2024. Once the new airport was fully built, it would have allowed 1.12 million annual operations and received up to 137 million passengers. At its peak in 2019, MEX received 52 million travelers.

The construction of Texcoco Airport was expected to cost approximately US$13.3 billion. Nonetheless, we will never truly know how much the project would have actually cost. As it has been seen with other airports, cost usually rise by the end. The Mexican Government would have funded approximately 60%. The cost was one of the main concerns of the new government that, ultimately, scrapped the project.

Mexico City’s Abandoned New Airport: What Could Have Been
View of a mock-up of the new airport of Mexico City, in Texcoco, Mexico State on October 25, 2016. Photo: Getty Images.

Scrapping the project

Despite the 30% progress, the new Mexican government under Andrés Manuel López Obrador decided to scrap the construction of Texcoco Airport. As soon as he was declared winner of the 2018’s presidential elections, López Obrador began a campaign that would ultimately stop the project altogether.

Scrapping the project is costing approximately 113 billion Mexican pesos, according to an estimation by the Superior Auditor of the Federation, in 2021. That’s about US$16.12 billion. According to the Government, canceling the Texcoco Airport is saving up to 500 billion pesos (nearly US$24 billion).

Following the cancelation, the plan has been to let nature take over and transform the once-future airport into a giant park. Currently, the project is to conserve 12,200 hectares of marsh. Half of that area will be used to build a public space, set to open by 2024.

The new project

In the meantime, Mexico City is set to have a new airport as soon as next year. The current Mexican administration decided to refurbish the Santa Lucía Military Base, north of the city, and turn it into a new commercial/military airport. It will open on March 21, 2022.

The goal is to have a Metropolitan System of Airports, coordinating MEX, with Santa Lucía International Airport and Toluca International Airport. In the long run, these three airports could handle up to 125 million passengers per year.

Nonetheless, there are many doubts regarding the Metropolitan System of Airports. Toluca is widely considered a white elephant with minimal commercial activity. Santa Lucía currently lacks ground connectivity, making it inaccessible for citizens across the metropolis.

So far, only Volaris and Viva Aerobus have confirmed their intentions of flying from Santa Lucía International Airport. Volaris has announced two routes connecting with Tijuana and Cancun. Viva Aerobus is yet to make public its destinations. Earlier this week, Aeromexico rejected operating from the new airport, at least, for now. Other carriers that have stated they won’t move from MEX are Air Canada and Copa Airlines.

What’s your take on this controversial topic? Let us know in the comments below.