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Latin chiefs criticise Mexico City airport outcome

A Mexican proposal to split Mexico City operations into three airports is not feasible, say Latin American airline chiefs following a public referendum to halt construction of a new airport for the Mexican capital.

"It will not be easy for any of us, to serve a city like Mexico City from three different airports," said Avianca chief executive Hernan Rincon on a panel at the ALTA Airline Leaders Forum in Panama City on 30 October. "The ideal scenario will be one airport… it is very unlikely we will fly to three. We would have to decide on one, perhaps two."

Aeromexico chief executive Andres Conesa left the forum early on 29 October following the vote.

Mexican president-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador had proposed upgrading the existing airport and Toluca airport, a secondary airport about a 1h 20min drive from central Mexico City. In addition, he proposed adding two runways at the Santa Lucia military airbase which is about a 50min drive from the current airport.

Copa Airlines chief executive Pedro Heilbron says that the Panamanian airline was offered frequencies years ago at Toluca, about 65km (40.3 miles) from the Mexico City airport, when the latter did not have sufficient slots for the airline to add service.

"We went to see Toluca and decided to not add flights there," he says, adding that the two airports were too far from each other.

Lopez Obrador has said that his incoming administration will respect the vote to halt the airport construction, a move that has sent investors into upheaval and the Mexican peso diving.

LATAM Airlines Group chief executive Enrique Cueto calls the situation an "unfortunate" one for Latin America. "I don't think any of this is good for the region, to not be able to make commitments, to leave things halfway through," he says. "It's an economic disaster."

Avianca's Rincon expresses little hope that the decision will be overturned. "For us it is a fact, the decision has been made," he says. "Now we have to move to understand how the three airports are going to serve Mexico City. We have a lot of work ahead of us."

The current Mexico City airport is already operating at over capacity. It handled 44.7 million passengers in 2017, over its capacity for 32 million passengers. IATA has warned that the move to scrap the airport will severely impact the growth of aviation in the country, and ultimately economic growth.

Copa's Heilbron says: "The Mexico City airport is already very congested, where no new flights can be added. Tourism, which depends on air connectivity, is going to be negatively impacted."

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