Main Mexico City Airport Told to Cut Flights by 17%

The government directive, which airlines warn will lead to mass flight cancellations, could drive traffic to the President's new airport north of the city. 

The Mexican government ordered Mexico City's old airport to cut flights by 17 percent Thursday, sparking warnings by airlines of possible mass flight cancellations.

The new rules, scheduled to take effect by Oct. 29, would require the terminal to reduce the number of flights per hour at the airport from 52 to 43. The airport has a design capacity of around 61 flights per hour, but that already had been cut to 52.

The airport has maintenance problems, including flooding or sewage smells in some areas. But the country's airline-industry chamber says that's because the government took away the terminal's revenues to pay for an airport project elsewhere that was later cancelled.

The National Air Transport Chamber said the new rules for Mexico City International Airport, or AICM, would hurt passengers, airlines and industry workers.

"This unexpected reduction planned to start on Oct. 29 will imply the need to massively cancel flights, including for passengers who have already bought tickets," the chamber said in a statement. "The real problem of the AICM is that the revenue it generates is not invested in its infrastructure."

Driving traffic to the new airport

When President Andrés Manuel López Obrador took office in late 2018, he immediately cancelled his predecessor's partly-built project of a new, larger terminal in the nearby township of Texcoco. Instead, López Obrador built another new terminal at an army airbase much farther to the north, but passengers and airlines have been loath to switch to the Felipe Angeles airport, because it's farther away.

Eager to portray his new Felipe Angeles terminal as a cheaper option than finishing the Texcoco project, López Obrador did not use government money to pay off investors and contractors owed for work done on the abandoned project. Instead, fees from the older, inner-city airport were used to pay them off, rather than being invested in maintenance or improvements.

López Obrador also is eager to force airlines and passengers to switch to his new but under-used Felipe Angeles terminal. Industry sources said that might have been one of the reasons behind the new flight limitation rules, though the president cited safety reasons.

López Obrador seemed to confirm Thursday that his new airport will benefit from the new rules. "Given that we have the Felipe Angeles airport, which fortunately has [underused] capacity, well, that's the way we are going to solve it," he said.