April 26, 2019 / 9:51 PM / a month ago

New Mexico City airport to go in service by mid-2021: official

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - A new Mexico City airport intended to replace a project canceled by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador should be ready for use in mid-2021 with a starting capacity of 20 million passengers per year, a senior official said on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: 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

Brigadier General Ricardo Vallejo, head of the military college of engineers, told a news conference the first phase of the airport to be built north of Mexico City by the town of Santa Lucia should be completed by June 2021.

“However, its maximum potential, its development potential, will be over 50 years,” Vallejo said.

He said the airport, due to be built by the military, would begin with an annual capacity for 20 million passengers that could eventually rise to 80 million.

The new airport has divided opinion since Lopez Obrador in October abruptly canceled a $13 billion partially built hub a few weeks before taking office. He argued that the facility on Mexico City’s eastern flank was tainted by corruption and too costly.

Lopez Obrador’s decision sparked a major sell-off in Mexican financial assets. Critics of the new project also argue that Santa Lucia’s distance from the capital could hurt tourism by complicating travel for connecting flights from Mexico City.

Santa Lucia lies some 29 miles (47 km) north of the current Benito Juarez International Airport. Still, some engineering experts say the two hubs may not be able to operate simultaneously.

Transport and Communications Minister Javier Jimenez Espriu rejects that view. He told the news conference a third terminal would be added to the Benito Juarez airport where the presidential hangar previously stood.

That would raise the current airport’s capacity to 50 million passengers a year, Jimenez said.

The government aims to save billions of dollars with the Santa Lucia site. But questions remain about carrying out the plan, in part due to the government’s own statements.

In December, Lopez Obrador said construction on the Santa Lucia hub would start in January. Earlier this week he said construction would begin next Monday. At the news conference on Friday he said construction would begin in June, “once we have all the requirements.”

Writing by Dave Graham; Editing by Tom Brown

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