Shortly before taking office last year, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador upended construction of a $13 billion airport for the nation’s capital. The glitzy, modernist project was riddled with corruption, AMLO said, and congestion could be eased more cheaply with a plan that included improvements for the existing hub.
But now, just nine months later, the full extent of the risks to that plan are emerging. Mexico City’s airport has recorded a 52 percent increase in aborted landings in the first five months of the year, according to data obtained through a freedom of information request. Landings thwarted specifically because other planes were still on the runway at the overcrowded airport climbed even faster — by 84 percent.
While pilots are trained to safely handle go-arounds, as the maneuvers are known, the surge in frequency of such events is adding to operational headaches at Latin America’s busiest airport. What’s more, a key component to AMLO’s alternative plan — diverting some commercial air traffic to a nearby military base — is bogged down in Mexican courts. And even if it were to eventually win legal approval, industry experts say the plan has little chance of meeting the growing demand for runway space caused by the rise of budget airlines in Mexico.
“It’s an unnecessary risk factor,” said Guillermo Galvan, a private-jet pilot and safety instructor at Mexican aviation schools. The airport didn’t respond to a request for comment. Mexico’s Communication and Transportation Ministry declined to comment.
Landing attempts can be scrubbed for a variety of reasons and they happen at all airports from time to time. Sudden changes in weather conditions have contributed to go-arounds in Mexico City in the past few months, said Gabriel Yee, Grupo Aeromexico SAB’s flight operations manager.
As for the congestion, the hub doesn’t have a policy known as “minimum runway use” to get planes out of the way quickly, Yee said. “There’s no denying the airport has more operations than before,” he said in an interview. “This is the airport we have for the time being and there are ways to make it work more efficiently.”
Few other companies agreed to discuss the issue. American Airlines Group Inc, the biggest US carrier on Latin America routes, said its flights haven’t been affected.
Big jets need more time to clear the runway and they sometimes don’t have enough time to do so, prompting other jets to abort landings, Galvan said. At an airport with few taxiways, planes crossing from a hangar to a gate sometimes needs to encroach on the busy runways.
Mexico City airport has two runways, but they can’t be used simultaneously because the distance between them is less than required. The hub handles 61 operations — takeoffs or landings — at peak times, and last year’s traffic climbed 6.6 percent to 47.7 million passengers.