MEXICO CITY (CN) — With the military already running security, air traffic control and customs duties, Mexico’s navy will soon take over all operations at the Mexico City International Airport, the country’s president said Wednesday.
“It’s already in charge of surveillance of the Mexico City airport,” President Andrés Manuel López Obrador told a reporter at his daily morning press conference who asked when the change would take place.
He then hailed the military’s work in the tasks it has been carrying out to date, claiming it has made the airport safer and lowered rates of crime like drug trafficking and luggage theft.
“It’s done a very good job,” he said. “I think many people are already noticing it. There’s no more theft of luggage, as before, and they’re taking care not to allow the entrance of contraband, drugs. We’re avoiding going to extremes like when the Mexico City airport was controlled by drug traffickers.”
Now civilian employees will be replaced by military personnel to carry out the airport's operative and administrative duties as well.
Being under total military control will put the Mexico City airport in a unique group of similarly administered facilities, according to independent airport infrastructure specialist Fernando Gómez Suárez.
Airports fully run by the military “are only in socialist countries like Venezuela, Cuba, China and North Korea,” Gómez said.
The airport has been plagued with problems of saturation, excessive wait times and other service issues ever since returning to operations after the Covid-19 pandemic. Such issues will not be resolved simply by switching to military control, Gómez said.
“It needs more personnel, improved training and certification, and better systematization and equipment,” he said, adding that other other failures have been due to technical errors in the air navigation and approach systems.
Air traffic control issues made headlines in May 2022 after a plane was given the go-ahead to land while another was already on the runway, leading to a near-collision. The incident prompted the resignation of the head of Mexico’s air navigation service provider. Poor training and lack of equipment turned out to be a nationwide problem.
Mexico has spent over two years on the FAA’s lowest safety rating, but for unrelated issues concerning airline operations and procedures. Aviation experts in the country have said that the FAA has now performed its final technical review, and they expect Mexico to return to the agency’s top rating within the next few months.
As for López Obrador’s claims that the airport is safer than back “when there was a narco-state,” security analysts said the statement is difficult to corroborate.
“The federal government manipulates crime rate statistics,” said independent security analyst David Saucedo. “There’s no way to really know if theft of passengers has gone down with the navy in charge of security.”
It is similarly impossible to know about the rate of drug trafficking in the airport, Saucedo said, though he did not personally believe it has gone down.
Security consultant Alberto Guerrero Baena called the president’s statements empty rhetoric detached from reality.
“Since he controls the morning political agenda, the president makes statements without regard for their veracity,” he said. “In the end, all it does is plant that seed in people’s imagination. The problem is that we keep paying attention to something we shouldn’t be paying attention to.”
Although he opposed militarization on the campaign trail, López Obrador has greatly expanded the powers of Mexico’s military. This past October, he baffled tourism experts when he announced that the army would run its own airline, hotels and tourism services company.
The army controls all operations at Mexico City’s newest airport AIFA and will soon be in charge of airports in four other states, as well, the president said, including one currently under construction in the popular tourist destination of Tulum, near Cancún.Follow @copycopeland
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