Telecoms & IT

Felipe Ángeles International Airport

Mexico City’s new international airport is on a mission to establish more routes.

On March 21, 2022, Felipe Ángeles International Airport (AIFA) was inaugurated with a presidential flight. It is now the Mexico City metropolitan area’s second-largest airport after Mexico City International Airport (MEX), which was unable to serve the sprawling city with its population of over 20 million anymore.

To appreciate the size of the greater Mexico City and the necessity of AIFA’s construction, one should remember that MEX and AIFA airports are roughly 45km apart, though both serve the same city.

The construction work on Felipe Ángeles International Airport began in 2019, but the need for a new airport was felt much earlier. For years, Mexico’s aviation authorities had contemplated a planned airport, known as the Mexico City Texcoco Airport.

The project was formally announced in 2014 to be constructed in the Zona Federal del Lago de Texcoco. But this airport never became a reality. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador took a dislike to the project, criticizing its high costs and ecological threats, and it was canceled as a result of a referendum.

Despite Texcoco Airport’s cancellation, the fact remained that the city desperately needed a new airport. With a major change of plans, it was decided that only a fraction of the Texcoco Airport’s USD13.3-billion budget was enough to construct a wholly serviceable international airport. The of renovation an existing airport, Santa Lucía Air Force Base, for use as a civilian terminal was chosen as the best course of action.

The renovation was completed more or less within the time frame. The new airport has achieved mixed results in the first few months of its operation. March 2022 marked the sixth month since Felipe Ángeles International Airport’s inauguration, by which time the airport had handled some 3,300 flights carrying 299,000 passengers. Though good enough for a new airport, this was less than 10% of arrivals at the Mexico City International Airport during the same period.

There was clearly some lack of awareness—or perhaps unwillingness—among airlines preventing them from organizing scheduled flights to and from the new airport, mainly because the airport services offered at AIFA were—at the time—not quite on par with what was available at MEX. This was principally because the construction work was far from over. “The airport was designed in its master development program to be projected in three stages.

The first is from 2022 to 2032, and it is considered that by that year the airport will have to double to an annual capacity of 40 million passengers,” pointed out Isidoro Pastor, managing director of AIFA, who sat down with TBY.

Things, however, began to change for AIFA around September 2022, when the number of arrivals took off in a big way. This was largely due to the establishment of routs to previously underserved destinations such as Panama City, Santo Domingo, Havana, Puerto Escondido, San José del Cabo, and Veracruz.

The new routes have enjoyed reasonable ticket sales. “In September, the traffic in and out of NLU boomed. Between March and August, the hub had, on average, 33,535 passengers; then, in September, it increased to 97,839 in just one month,” according to SimpleFlying. This makes AIFA almost as busy as MEX.

As of November, the new airport is used by six major airlines with more 200 scheduled flights per week, including Aeroméxico, which has come to use the airport as a hub. It seems that Aeroméxico, among some other airlines, has chosen AIFA as an alternative airport particularly for domestic flights and regional flights to LATAM destinations. Other airlines are still sizing up the new airport. “We have received several visits from different airlines, and a route is still being planned from Europe to the airport, directly and daily,” according to Pastor.

Most airlines, therefore, are employing those aircrafts in their fleet that have a limited number of seats for flights to and from AIFA—roughly 100-130 seats depending on the layout. This specialization in terms of destinations and aircrafts is not necessarily a negative thing. On the contrary, this means AIFA has found its niche in Mexico’s aviation sector. In addition to short-haul flights, the airport has come to be known as a hub for low-cost airlines and cargo flights.

Even more flights to and from Felipe Ángeles International Airport will be expected if Mexico regains its US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ranking in 2023. FAA is a well-respected arbiter of safety and reliability across the Americas and beyond. “Mexico is making progress towards recovering its Category 1 aviation rating,” according to Reuters. The result is pending on a final audit in early 2023, which will also have a significant bearing on the fate of Mexico City’s new international airport.

The new airport’s fate, in turn, is tied to Mexico’s economic prospects, especially because AIFA is also a hub for cargo flights. As Rogelio Jiménez Pons, Mexico’s Transportation Undersecretary, puts it: “Mexico must consolidate and take advantage of the economic bloc, especially since the US might repatriate companies from Asia back to the region. If Mexico had all the necessary infrastructure, such developments would be profitable for us.” The current administration, which will be in power until 2024, really wants to leave the success of AIFA as one of its legacies.