The Long and Winding Road to Mexico City’s New Airport

With the capital city’s new terminal slated for a March 18 opening, work still has to be done on roads and signage to facilitate travelers’ arrival

Roadworks are underway on the Mexico City-Pachuca highway to facilitate access to Mexico City's new international airport (AIFA). (Photo: Zenyazen Flores)
March 15, 2022 | 01:45 PM

Mexico City — Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador will be able to travel to Cancún next week to supervise the work on the so-called Tren Maya tourist train under construction, one of his flagship projects, as long as his driver can find his way to the city’s new Felipe Ángeles airport (AIFA), slated to open on March 18.

Another of López Obrador’s flagship projects, AIFA pales in comparison in terms of size and planning with the planned project that the president scrapped upon taking office in 2018.

AIFA has been built on the orders of López Obrador at the Santa Lucía military base after the president shelved the original project for a $14 billion international air terminal in Texcoco, on the city’s outskirts, that was begun during the 2012-2018 term of his predecessor Enrique Peña Nieto.

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AIFA is designed to alleviate traffic from Mexico City’s more centrally located Benito Juárez International Airport, which has two terminals and has been at saturation point for years.

López Obrador cited the elevated cost of the Norman Foster-designed new airport project approved by the previous administration as the reason for shelving it, despite the fact that works were well advanced on the runways and control tower, and the government faced litigation cases as a result from companies that had been awarded contracts to build the airport.

AIFA is located in the municipality of Zumpango, about 50km from the city center, and around 58km from the site of the shelved airport project.

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To calculate the time needed to reach the new airport ahead of its opening on March 18, this Bloomberg Línea reporter drove from the National Palace, where the president lives and works, to the new terminal, in what proved to be a time-consuming trip impeded somewhat by the multiple roadworks under way along the route, as well as confusing signage.

The scheduled departure time from the National Palace was at noon, and which is considered to be outside the city’s peak traffic hours. However, a protest in the city main’s square, or Zócalo, where the National Palace is located, caused a 20-minute delay to the trip’s start as many of the central city streets were blocked.

The route indicated by the GPS pointed to the Mexico-Pachuca Highway as the preferred route, and estimated a journey time of one hour and 23 minutes, although that proved to be a conservative estimate.

Unfinished road works, unexpected road closures and confusion due to the absence of signs pointing to the AIFA caused the GPS to redirect the original route, and the total journey time was one hour and 56 minutes.

Mexico's President Andrés Manuel López Obrador lives and works in the National Palace. On March 11, demonstrators in the Zócalo square facing the palace caused road closures in the city center. (Photo: Zenyazen Flores)dfd

Which Way to AIFA?

From AIFA it will be possible to fly to Cancún, Tijuana, Mérida, Guadalajara, Monterrey and Villahermosa, with flights also planned for Caracas, Venezuela. However, a week before the airport is scheduled to open, the main access roads are unfinished, and which will complicate the journey for passengers trying to arrive in time to catch a flight.

The airport will be served by Mexican airlines From the AIFA it will be possible to travel to the cities of Cancun, Tijuana, Merida, Guadalajara, Monterrey and Villahermosa, even an international flight to Caracas, Venezuela is planned, however, a week before the airport is inaugurated, the main access roads are unfinished, which could complicate the journey for passengers trying to arrive in time to catch a flight.

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The new airport will be served by Mexican airlines Viva Aerobus, Volaris and Aeromexico.

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The route suggested by the GPS is to head northeast from the city center to Oceanía, the avenue where the capital’s IKEA store is located, before turning onto Avenida 602, where the customs offices of Mexico City International Airport (AICM) are located.

The road continues along the Circuito Exterior Mexiquense, an expressway that connects the main roads in and out of Mexico City’s northwest perimeter, and from which it is possible to see the site of the now abandoned New Mexico City International Airport (NAIM), in Texcoco.

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Works that form part of the viaduct that will provide access from the Mexico City–Pachuca highway to Tonanitla, and which was among the first public-private sector infrastructure projects announced by the Mexican government in November 2019. (Photo: Zenyazen Flores)dfd

An hour’s journey from the city center brings the traveler to the first toll booth, caseta Las Américas, which has a cost of 68 pesos ($3.25), and which has an anti-evasion system that punctures car tires, installed by the Ecatepec municipality in Mexico State, in which the booth is located, and which in 2020 was the country’s second municipality with the largest number of people living in poverty, according to the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (CONEVAL).

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But it is from here that the route determined by the GPS from Palacio Nacional begins to change. After the toll booth, confusion arises as to which route to take, especially if a passenger or driver is unfamiliar with the area, due to the absence of signage.

The Circuito Exterior Mexiquense connects with the Mexico City-Pachuca highway, but the remodeling works being carried out on both the toll road and the Mexico City-Pachuca toll-free highway mean one is diverted from the original route suggested by the GPS.

Modernization works are ongoing on the Mexico City-Pachuca toll-free highway. (Photo: Zenyazen Flores)dfd

From the Las Américas toll booth to the Zumpango-Tecámac highway, which is the final stretch of the route to AIFA, construction work is visible on the roads that are being built to presumably allow travelers to reach AIFA in a matter of minutes from the Las Américas area in Ecatepec.

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Cargo trucks, heavy machinery, pipes, cement mixers, workers in high-visibility vests and hundreds of orange plastic road barriers can be seen along the road.

There are also signs warning of works in progress, but up to the Zumpango-Tecámac highway there are no signs announcing that one is approaching the airport. Neither did the personnel manning the toll booth know for sure which road leads to AIFA the fastest. The road suggested by an employee as “the fast lane” had barriers prohibiting its use.

Roadworks on the access road to AIFA's airport services and office areas. (Photo: Zenyazen Flores)dfd

Reaching the Destination

This reporter arrived at the airport at 2:16 p.m., along Santa Lucia Avenue, lined with a continuous parade of workers wearing helmets and vests emblazoned with the logo of the airport, and which was mostly built by the Mexican Army.

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Locals have set up sidewalk stalls selling snacks for construction workers, while next to the airport, in the Santa Lucía neighborhood, lies a solitary sports complex whose roof was inaugurated by AMLO in May 2021.

Bloomberg Línea took a tour around AIFA and was also able to observe construction work underway on the roads that will surround the airport, and remodeling work under way on streets and street lighting on the Mexico City-Pachuca Highway, near the Santa Lucía Military Base.

It is only in the area surrounding the airport where signs have been erected indicating that the AIFA is close by.

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Luis Fernández, an engineer who lives in Pachuca and who has to commute to Mexico City to work, told Bloomberg Línea that the AIFA area has seen traffic chaos for days, and that the roadworks have lengthened the trip on the Mexico City-Pachuca Highway in the Tecámac area alone to two hours.

Once the works are finished, he said, there will be a better traffic flow, but in the meantime residents of the area must look for alternative routes because travelers from Mexico City will saturate the highway, being the most direct route to AIFA.

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Due to the expansion works on the Mexico City-Pachuca highway, which is the main access to AIFA, the National Guard will implement a permanent information and traffic operation to support motorists, public transportation users and the population in general, according to the government.

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