April 24, 2019 / 6:27 PM / 5 months ago

Mexican president says new airport construction to start next week

ZUMPANGO, Mexico (Reuters) - Construction at a military base that is slated to host the Mexican capital’s new commercial airport will begin next week, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said at the site of the project on Wednesday.

Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador gives a speech during the inauguration of the Aerospace Fair 2019 at the Santa Lucia military airbase in Tecamac near Mexico City, Mexico April 24, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Romero

“We will being construction of Mexico City’s new airport next Monday,” said Lopez Obrador in a speech at the Santa Lucia military air base, north of the sprawling capital in the neighboring State of Mexico.

He did not further detail the construction plans, and it is not the first time the president has announced a start time.

Lopez Obrador said in late December that construction would begin in January for the controversial airport project being overseen by the military.

The plan is a replacement for a part-built $13 billion Mexico City airport on the capital’s eastern flank which Lopez Obrador canceled on Oct. 29, a few weeks before taking office.

Markets were shocked by that decision, which sparked a major sell-off in Mexican financial assets.

The now-scrapped airport on the dried-out bed of Lake Texcoco was the biggest public works project launched by Lopez Obrador’s predecessor as president, Enrique Pena Nieto.

The leftist Lopez Obrador dismissed the Texcoco plan as tainted by corruption, geologically unsound and too costly.

Lopez Obrador’s idea is to convert the Santa Lucia base into a commercial airport and upgrade the capital’s current hub as well as another in the nearby city of Toluca.

The plan for Santa Lucia, which lies some 29 miles (47 km) north of the current Benito Juarez International Airport, is not popular with a number of prominent business leaders who were angry about he cancellation of the Texcoco airport.

Critics of the project argue that Santa Lucia’s distance from the capital will deter tourism and could complicate travel for connecting flights from Mexico City.

In addition, engineering experts have said the Santa Lucia airport may not be able to operate at the same time as the current hub because of conflicting flight paths.

Reporting by Sharay Angulo; Editing by Marguerita Choy

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