In what critics have called an unabashed attempt to force airlines to use the newly inaugurated, but poorly received, Felipe Ángeles International Airport (AIFA), the administration of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) on Monday, May 2, announced that it will restrict incoming and outgoing flights at Mexico City’s Benito Juárez International Airport (AICM) to a maximum of 50 per hour.

Currently, the AICM handles up to 61 arrivals and departures per hour.

Mexican Undersecretary of Transportation Rogelio Jiménez Pons said that the objective of the new ruling is to eliminate around 11 AICM operations per hour and send them to the AIFA, which currently has only about 11 flights a day and only one international flight, twice a week, from Venezuela.

Under the new decree, he said, charter flights, official operations and other regular commercial flights will be culled at the Mexico City airport.

“It is a decree that will allow us better operating conditions,” Jiménez Pons said. “I calculate that we are talking about between 48 and 50 flights per hour that will remain in the AICM.”

Initially, he said, the intention was to reduce operations in the AICM by about 20 percent, but in the long term, “we will seek to cut flights in the capital’s port by up to 30 percent.”

But despite a combination of stick-and-carrot efforts to entice (and intimidate) both national and international airlines into using the new Felipe Ángeles Airport — a pet megaproject of the president, which has been riddled with problems like lack of accessibility, poor signage, chaotic coordination, canceled flights, complicated landings and take-offs and, most significantly, possible safety concerns for ascending and descending planes — airlines have repeatedly shown a disinterest in accepting it as a hub.

Cuitláhuac Gutiérrez, Mexico manager of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), said Monday that a direct reduction of 30 percent in the AICM would be problematic for most airlines.

Gutiérrez, who is also the general director of the National Chamber of Air Transport, said that the airlines have spoken with the government to consider drawing up an alternative plan to desaturation the capital’s airport.

Most international carriers, with the sole exception of Venezuela’s Conviasa, have already stated that they will not, under any circumstances, use the AIFA.

“What the government needs to understand is that airlines are going to operate their flights where they generate profits,” Gutiérrez said.

Currently, the Benito Juárez Airport is authorized to carry out 61 operations per hour, 58 of them for commercial airlines and three more for government flights.

But under the new decree, charter flights and, gradually, cargo flights will have to leave the Mexico City Airport, switching them out for the AIFA and Toluca Airport, both of which have few flights and a joint infrastructure to receive 28 million passengers a year.

Jiménez Pons said that Mexican airlines Viva Aerobus, Volaris and Aeroméxico have already been notified about the´new decree.

“We are going to do this together, as a joint program,” he added. “The airlines are scared, but, in the end, they say that they going to collaborate.”

The government is also considering tax breaks, fuel subsidies and other incentives to lure airlines away from the AICM.

The government’s target is for, by the end of this year, the AIFA to have received 2.6 million passengers and, although Jiménez Pons said that it will not be done by “force,” the decree would require airlines to reduce their Mexico City itineraries and look for alternative hubs.

Despite the current saturation of the two AICM terminals and the deplorable disrepair of the Mexico City International Airport, Jiménez Pons said that the government will not build a formally anticipated Terminal 3.

He said that the project has been cancelled.

Instead, he said, the government is preparing a comprehensive remodeling of Terminal 2, where one wing has sunk and another has a raised and uneven floor due to engineering flaws.

Terminal 1 will also undergo engineering work and its facilities will be improved, he said.


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