Normally, a brand-new airport serving one of the world’s largest cities elicits unbridled excitement on the part of travelers and tourism industry insiders.
But in the case of Felipe Angeles International Airport, which opens next week on March 21 outside of Mexico City, it may take a while to see the full benefits, according to some observers.
Often referred to as “AIFA” (its initials in Spanish) or “NLU” (its IATA code), Felipe Angeles International Airport is a $2.6 billion, military-built facility on the site of the Santa Lucia Air Force Base in the municipality of Zumpango, about 28 miles from the existing Mexico City International Airport (MEX).
Airport's Opening Garners Mixed Reactions
While the new airport is meant to alleviate congestion at Mexico City’s seriously overburdened existing airport, it’s not expected to help much — at least for now.
The airport will be served by two low-cost airlines when the doors open: Volaris, which will offer daily flights to and from Tijuana and Cancun; and Viva Aerobus, which will fly daily to and from Monterrey and Guadalajara. In April, Aeromexico will launch service to Merida and Villahermosa. And in October, Venezuelan airline Conviasa is expected to launch flights to Caracas.
According to the Spanish newspaper El Pais, international service between AIFA and the U.S. won’t be possible until the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration upgrades Mexico’s safety rating from Category 2 to Category 1 status.
For now, no reduction in air traffic is expected at Mexico City International Airport (MEX) as a result of the new airport’s opening. In fact, any relief is far in the future, according to Ben Gritzewsky, the Merida, Mexico-based Mexico and Latin America travel director at VEN, powered by Frosch.
“It’s going to take many, many more years to make any significant difference,” he said. “In the near future, I don’t think there will be any noticeable relief at MEX. People will complain about the inferior new airport, as well.”
Indeed, the AIFA project has been controversial since its inception in 2019, when President Manuel Lopez Obrador canceled a larger new airport project at Texcoco, which was some 30% complete and located just 3 miles from the existing airport.
It’s going to take many, many more years to make any significant difference. In the near future, I don’t think there will be any noticeable relief at MEX.
“I am still upset about the cancellation of the Texcoco airport,” Gritzewsky said. “Many billions of pesos were wasted, and [President Lopez Obrador’s] capricious reversal axed an exciting and illuminated project that could have alleviated the congestion and been ranked at the top of world airports.”
Accessibility for Foreign Visitors to Mexico City
For international visitors, Gritzewsky said that AIFA is “not at all viable nor attractive.”
“As long as they are arriving or departing internationally, foreign travelers are going to transit [through] MEX,” he said. “A same-day connection between airports is not practical. Even if they are overnighting in [Mexico City], it’s inconvenient. Unless their destination is only served from NLU, it won’t be worth the extra time and expense.”
“In a few years, when the new airport has the adequate surrounding infrastructure and passenger demand, the larger international carriers may take interest,” he added. “I definitely don’t want them to do so anytime soon.”
With the opening of AIFA, Mexico City will be served by three commercial airports, including Toluca International Airport (TLC), to the west of the city. With the right infrastructure, Gritzewsky still has hope that the three facilities will ultimately give the capital region the service it needs.
“My dream is that one day there will be coherent ground connections between the three airports, so that the system makes sense,” he said.
Because "their geographic positions are strategically advantageous," Gritzewsky believes the city's entire urban transportation network should be integrated.
"When it’s viable to even get to and from NLU, perhaps all international flights will operate there," he said. "It’s supposed to have the world’s most advanced airport technology, after all. Because of its location, it might also offer flights to cities to the north. MEX would serve domestic destinations to the east and south, with TLC serving the many western airports. Clearly, it’s going to take a long time for the critical ground links to function.”