Mexico City Airport Disaster looming?


Although pilots are trained to perform maneuvers in the air, the increase in aborted flights and overcrowding situation adds to the operational headaches of the airport.

Shortly before taking office last year, the now president Andrés Manuel López Obrador canceled the construction of the airport in Texcoco for 13 billion dollars in the capital of the country.

The modernist project was plagued with corruption, AMLO said, and air congestion could be eased more economically with a plan that included improvements to the existing center.

Now, only nine months later, all the risks of that plan are emerging. The Mexico City International Airport (AICM) has registered a 50 percent increase in aborted landings in the first five months of the year, according to data obtained through a request for information.

Landings frustrated because other planes were still on the runway of the overcrowded airport rose even faster: 84 percent.

While the pilots are trained to perform the maneuver known as “going to the air” or “go-around”, the increase in such events adds to the operational headaches at the busiest airport in Latin America.

In addition, a key component of AMLO’s alternative plan (diverting part of commercial air traffic to the Saint Lucia Air Base) is bogged down in court. Even if it obtained legal approval, industry experts point out that the plan has little chance of meeting the growing demand for runway space caused by the increase in low-cost airlines in the country.

“It is an unnecessary risk factor,” said Guillermo Galván, a private jet pilot and safety instructor in Mexican aviation schools.

The airport did not respond to a request for comment. The Secretary of Communications and Transportation declined to give statements.

Landing attempts can be aborted for a variety of reasons and occur at all airports from time to time. Sudden changes in weather conditions have contributed to these maneuvers in Mexico City in recent months, said Gabriel Yee, flight operations manager at Grupo Aeroméxico.

As for congestion, the airport does not have a policy known as “minimum runway use” to get planes off the road quickly, Yee added.

“You can’t deny that the airport has more operations than before,” he said in an interview. “This is the airport we have at the moment and there are ways to make it work more efficiently.”

Some other companies agreed to discuss the issue. American Airlines, the largest US airline on Latin American routes, said its flights have not been affected.

Larger planes need more time to clear the runway and sometimes they don’t have enough time to do so, which leads other planes to abort landings, Galván said. At an airport with few taxiways, planes that cross from a hangar to a door sometimes need to invade the busy runways.

The AICM has two runways, but they cannot be used simultaneously because the distance between them is less than required. The air terminal handles 61 operations (takeoffs or landings) during peak hours, and last year’s traffic rose 6.6 percent to a record 47.7 million passengers.

Increasing incidence

Canceled landings remain extremely rare in Mexico City. But this incident increased to six per thousand landings in the first five months of the year, from the four that occurred last year. That costs airlines time and fuel for airplanes.

As a general rule in the world, for every thousand landing attempts, between one and three will result in “going to air” said Richard Bloom, who teaches aviation security and global intelligence at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

The increase in CDMX “minimally, should lead to a review of the typical factors involved in transfers,” Bloom said in an interview.

Of the 541 “airborne” from January to May of this year, 83 were due to the presence of other aircraft on the runways. In the same period last year, there were 357 frustrated landings, of which 45 were caused by clogged runways.

Presidential policy

In the last 20 years, each Mexican president has dealt with overcrowding in the AICM, which was declared “saturated” by the authorities in 2013.

The administration of Enrique Peña Nieto even began construction in 2017 of the airport in Texcoco, which was scheduled to handle the influx of about 68 million passengers a year when it opened in 2022.

But in October, while Peña Nieto was preparing to leave and López Obrador had already been elected, the new leader canceled the partially built airport, citing corruption concerns and a nationwide “consultation” that attracted 1.07 million participants who voted primarily Against the project

Instead, López Obrador plans to update the current airport with a third terminal and equip the Santa Lucia Military Air Base for commercial use. He also wants to add flights to Toluca airport, about 58 kilometers from the center of Mexico City, although bad traffic can make the trip take 2 hours.

A federal judge stopped construction in St. Lucia in June, arguing the need for environmental studies and protection for cultural heritage sites. AMLO said the project is moving forward, even if it is delayed while authorities wait for studies.

Feasibility questions

Miter aviation experts have said that increasing flights in Saint Lucia and the AICM is not viable. Aeromexico’s chief executive, Andrés Conesa, said he shared similar concerns.

“We have not seen the analysis,” he said in an interview. “We would like to see the ability to increase operations in this dual system. We prefer to have an airport because we are under a center and radio model.”

Then there is Toluca. The airport enjoyed moderate traffic when it opened in 2002, but that declined as airlines distrusted the cost of operating from two airports.

“We stopped operating in Toluca for what it cost us,” Enrique Beltranena, CEO of Volaris, told Bloomberg.

As for the president’s plan to revive him, Beltranena commented: “We need more clarity about the costs that this would represent.”

Source: el financiero

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