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Reduced Operations at AICM: What Does it Mean for Air Travel in Mexico?

Flights to Mexico City International Airport (AICM) are about to get more complicated. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) disapproved of the Mexican Government’s decision to reduce flight operations at Mexico City International. The Government reduced the capacity to 43 flight operations per hour. The Airline Association urges the authorities to rethink this decision. IATA says this move will negatively affect passengers, air operations, tourism, connectivity, and Mexico’s competitiveness.

Mexico City International Airpot T2
Mexico City International Airport T2. Credit: Edgor Tovar Vmzp85

Why is the Mexican Government Reducing Flight Operations at AICM?

According to reports, the Government says it reduced hourly flight operations at Mexico City International Airport over national security concerns.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador stated that the city’s airport operates at 150% of its capacity. Concerns about air traffic saturation led to this decision. However, the decision has faced a backlash in Mexico. The National Chamber of Air Transport (Canaero) labeled the move as “unilateral and arbitrary.” They say limiting flights to Mexico City International Airport will negatively affect passengers, national and international destinations, and stakeholders in the air sector. The College of Aviator Pilots of Mexico (CPAM) has requested a postponement, suggesting a comprehensive study and analysis.

Meanwhile, Aeromexico announced that it would centralize its operations in Terminal 2. This move is expected to streamline connections, enhancing the overall travel experience for passengers.

What Do International Airlines Say of the Decision to Limit Flights?

Peter Cerdá, IATA’s Regional Vice President for the Americas, said, “This decision by the Government does not take into account the interests of consumers. Nor does it respect the necessary consultative process with operators and users, especially at the country’s main airport.” He emphasized that technical analysis and studies must drive any decisions regarding operational changes. Cerdá questioned the methodologies Mexico’s aviation regulators and AICM used to determine the airport’s capacity.

Moreover, IATA claims this move ignores global standards and practices. It would require a joint decision-making process with all stakeholders involved. A joint decision ensures transparency and predictability in air operations. It also upholds international commitments.

Is This the First Time Flight Capacity Is Reduced at Mexico City International Airport?

No. AICM’s operations reduced in 2022, going from 62 to 52 operations per hour. At the time, the Government justified this cutback, citing airspace restrictions. Interestingly, a 2018 study by the Government confirmed a safe capacity of up to 72 flight operations per hour. The reduction in 2022 led to cargo-only airlines having to stop their operations at AICM. This was meant to allow for terminal improvements. Notably, to date, these improvements are still lacking.

According to Cerdá, the core issue is not about operational capacity. Instead, it’s the aging and deteriorating infrastructure of AICM. “Both Terminals 1 and 2 are in dire need of modernization,” he added.

Why is AICM Crucial for Mexico?

AICM, with services from over 24 national and international airlines, is Mexico’s central hub. It connects all Mexican states and a significant number of international destinations. Given Mexico’s vast tourism potential, ensuring seamless aviation connectivity is essential, making air travel more accessible nationwide. In 2021, aviation played a massive role in the Mexican economy. It contributed 1.3 million jobs and added US $46.8 billion to the country’s GDP.

Isn’t There a Second Airport Built in Mexico City?

The current Government canceled the partially built, futuristic, multi-billion dollar International Airport Mexico City. Instead, they opened another new airport, Felipe Angeles, a former military base. However, the Felipe Angeles airport has not yet enjoyed great success. As even the Mexican President admits, one motivation for limiting flights at AICM is so more airlines move their operations to Felipe Angeles. The problem is that the infrastructure at that airport is also strained. The lack of adequate transportation to/from the remote site makes it an unattractive choice for travelers, especially those who want to connect to onward destinations in Mexico.

What Are the Next Steps for the Mexican Government?

IATA argues the current priority for the Mexican government should be recovery. The Association suggests Mexico regain a Category 1 rating from the US Federal Aviation Administration’s International Aviation Safety Assessment program. The downgrade to Category 2, IATA says, has negatively affected Mexico. It has led to lost air connections, higher ticket costs, and made Mexican airlines less competitive.

However, Mexico’s president has other views. As reported, President Obrador gives the FAA’s Category 2 rating less importance. He describes it as undue pressure imposed on Mexico by the US. “[The FAA] still haven’t given us Category 1 because they always blackmail. They say, ‘Well, you have to do this because if you don’t, we won’t give you Category 1.’ They haven’t checked the calendar. They are lost in a time when there was a puppet government in Mexico that didn’t act independently.”

So, What Now for Those Who Want to Fly to Mexico?

Flights to Mexico City International Airport will continue, but there will be fewer. There may be flight delays. Shipping and cargo are also affected. Airfares may rise. IATA says the aviation industry is eager to collaborate with the Mexican government and stakeholders to find a solution. The shared goal is to ensure that Mexico continues to reap the benefits of aviation connections at AICM.

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