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Mexico City’s new international airport opens with few flights

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Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Monday inaugurated a new international airport for Mexico City—one of his flagship projects—but so far many airlines are hesitant to use it.

Passengers walk at the new General Felipe Angeles International Airport in Zumpango, Mexico State, Mexico, on March 21, 2021. AFP

Felipe Angeles International Airport, built at a military air base north of the capital, began operating with a domestic Aeromexico flight bound for Villahermosa in Lopez Obrador’s home state of Tabasco.

“The airport is 100 percent complete,” Lopez Obrador said at his daily news conference held at the new airport.

“It’s just a matter of airlines increasing their trips” from Felipe Angeles, he said.

The opening of Lopez Obrador’s first major infrastructure project comes as Mexicans prepare to vote on April 10 in a midterm recall referendum championed by the president on whether he should stay in office.

So far, only three national airlines—Volaris, Viva Aerobus, and Aeromexico—as well as Venezuela’s Conviasa have agreed to operate a limited number of mostly domestic flights from Felipe Angeles.

Lopez Obrador said he was optimistic that Mexico would soon recover its Category 1 aviation safety rating from the US Federal Aviation Administration, following a downgrade last year that prevents US carriers from opening new services or routes to the country.

Mired in controversy

Felipe Angeles, named after a general in the Mexican revolution, is meant to take the pressure off Benito Juarez airport, which will continue operating.

Benito Juarez, which handled a record 50.3 million passengers in 2019 before the Covid-19 pandemic, is one of the busiest airports in Latin America.

Its location in eastern Mexico City is far more convenient for many residents of the capital than Felipe Angeles, which is located about 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of the city’s historic district.

A planned rail link to connect the new airport with the capital’s suburban train network is not scheduled to be completed until the second half of 2023.

Felipe Angeles was controversial from the start.

After taking office in 2018, Lopez Obrador canceled another airport project launched by the previous government that was already one-third complete.

He branded the $13 billion project a “bottomless pit” rife with corruption and tasked the military with overseeing construction of the new airport at a cost of around $3.7 billion.

“We have accomplished the mission within the authorized budget, allotted time and required quality,” said Gustavo Vallejo, head of the military engineering unit that oversaw the project.

The army is also involved in construction of a tourist train in the Yucatan Peninsula — another one of the president’s major infrastructure projects, which also include an oil refinery in the southeastern state of Tabasco.

Felipe Angeles is expected to handle 2.4 million passengers in 2022 and about five million people by 2023, its operational director Isidoro Pastor told reporters.

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