MEXICO CITY (CN) — Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador inaugurated the new Mexico City airport on Monday despite his administration’s flagship infrastructure project remaining unfinished and without services.
The opening of Felipe Ángeles International Airport fulfills a major campaign promise by López Obrador, who canceled construction on an airport begun during the administration of his predecessor, Enrique Peña Nieto, in the dry lakebed of Texcoco, northeast of the city.
López Obrador has hailed the project, about 24 miles north of Mexico City's center, as a way to lighten the load of air traffic on the saturated Benito Juárez International Airport.
Experts cite several insufficiencies that do not bode well for the new airport’s ability to meet this goal.
One major hurdle is the airport is currently international in name only. It has not yet been certified by Mexico’s Federal Agency of Civil Aviation (AFAC) as meeting safety standards set by the International Air Transportation Association and the International Civil Aviation Organization.
The most likely reason for the lack of certification was an administrative error, according to airport infrastructure specialist Fernando Gómez.
“Somebody must have forgotten to do it in time,” Gómez said.
AFAC did not respond to Courthouse News’ request for a statement.
As a result, major international airlines have not registered to fly to the new airport. Some, like American Airlines, have even expressed their desire to remain at Benito Juárez.
Without certifications, international airlines run the risk of not being covered by their insurance in the event of an accident.
“No airline in its right mind would run a risk of this magnitude,” Gómez said.
Major U.S. carriers were reticent to talk about the prospect of flying to Felipe Ángeles when and if it becomes certified. Delta declined Courthouse News’ request for comment, and United did not respond.
In a statement, American Airlines 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.”
Also working against the airport’s predicted capacity of just under 20 million annual passengers is that it has only half of the number of gates originally planned: 14 instead of 28.
“The infrastructure doesn’t give these kinds of numbers,” Gómez said.
Then there is the issue of the notorious Mexico City traffic. Highways meant to conduct passengers to and from the two airports are still under construction. It appears unlikely after completion that they will get passengers to the airport from the city in the touted 40 minutes from the capital.
To prove that the trip only takes 40 minutes, President López Obrador left Mexico City’s National Palace for the inauguration ceremony at 5 a.m. on a national holiday.
The taxi trip from Mexico City's Coyoacán borough took Courthouse News nearly two hours without traffic jams.
María Guadalupe Álvarez came to the new airport to show her support for the president and his project. Despite the trip taking her four hours from the Mexico City borough of Iztapalapa, where she lives, she praised the airport as a “job well done." Neither the long trip nor the squads of armed military troops could diminish her enthusiasm.
Federal defense ministry Sedena built Felipe Ángeles on the Santa Lucía military base in neighboring México State. The growing militarization of the country was on full display on its inaugural day.
Hundreds of troops from the National Guard, Army and Air Force marched the grounds and took selfies with excited citizens who came to see the facilities. Many received applause as they passed. Large screens set on columns outside the terminal played videos of soldiers conducting missions.
No one that Courthouse News spoke with at the airport expressed doubts or worries about the massive military presence in what is ostensibly a civilian airport.
“I don’t think any other country has seen its military do something like this for its people,” Álvarez said.
“I think the military should have this kind of responsibility,” said fellow supporter Mario López Cruz. “The military is less corrupt than the police. They have discipline and this keeps them from being corrupt.”
Delia Menses came with her adult son Aldo to take in the fanfare and snap photos with armed Air Force troops.
“This is fabulous,” said Menses, 60, from close by in México State. “I’ve always liked and admired the military. I’m not worried about their presence at all. It makes me feel safer.”
Such glowing praise was not to be found in the line for taxis at the end of the day, where attendants tried to placate angry airport visitors beneath handwritten signs reading: “No service.”
“This is ridiculous, stupid,” an elderly man commented before storming off to find another option.
Non-airport taxis and ridesharing companies like Didi were not allowed to enter the airport grounds to pick up passengers. Uber did not offer service from Felipe Ángeles.
The only commercial space rented out to a food service company on the airport's first day was a Starbucks, but it had no food in the display case and was not serving coffee. There was not even a convenience store where stranded visitors could find snacks to tide them over while waiting for a ride home that no one could assure them was coming.