By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
As debate over the safety of Mexico’s redesigned airspace — which has been linked to at least 17 close-call airplane incidents (and perhaps as many as 30) in the 12 months since its implementation — continues to fester, both Mexican and international aviation experts are warning that it may be time to reexamine the massive $17 billion Texcoco airport project that President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) halted mid-construction when he took office in December 2018.
The now-defunct New International Airport of Mexico (NAIM), which AMLO replaced (on a whim) with his controversial and unpopular Felipe Ángeles International Airport (AIFA), led to the redesigning of the Valley of Mexico’s airspace.
But it might just have been the “best option for a new air terminal,” the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said Tuesday, May 10, in a letter that is sent to Mexico’s aviation authorities.
“We want to express our concern, shared by our international members, over the significant increase in ground proximity warning events in the terminal area of Mexico City’s International Airport,” the letter read.
Also, the International Federation of Airline Pilots Association (IFAPA) reported several incidents in the past month in which aircraft arrived with low fuel due to unplanned holding and diversions for excessive delays.
All these problems, the AFAPA said, were rooted in the redesign of Mexico’s airspace to accommodate the AIFA, opened by the president with great fanfare in March of this year to low usage and a cold shoulder from all but one international carrier (a Venezuelan airlines that most sane Mexicans would probably avoid anyway).
The Felipe Angeles airport is located about 50 kilometers north of the capital’s center and was intended to relieve saturation at the Benito Juarez airport.
However, experts at IATA and the IFAPA said that the redesign is flawed and that it ignores the metropolis’ unique geography (Mexico City is ringed by mountains and its altitude is more than 7,000 feet, making landing aircraft more difficult).
The Texcoco hub would have avoided these issues, since it was outside the Mexico City ring, they said.
And it would not have required a redesign of Mexico’s airspace.
Also, IATA noted, the NAIM had international feasibility studies conducted (which the AIFA did not), as well as the approval of all its future participants, airlines and air traffic operators, alike.
Meanwhile, AMLO continues to insist that Mexico’s redesigned airspace is “perfectly safe” (and that it is only the wicked, evil conservatives who are out to embarrass him and his administration that are saying otherwise), while pressuring airlines to use his hard-to-find, hard-to-maneuver-in, poorly-equipped AIFA and let the Mexico City International Airport fall into decay for lack of investment and maintenance.
On Saturday, May 7, two Volaris planes nearly collided on the AICM runway, sending off alarm bells around the globe.
But AMLO wasn’t listening.
Will it take a full-fledged, mid-air crash of international airplanes to make him take note?
Let us hope not.