Saturday, February 24, 2024

Construction of new airport is now officially done — well, almost

Construction work on the cancelled Mexico City International Airport project is now officially concluded, the federal communications and transportation secretary said yesterday.

Javier Jiménez Espriú told a press conference at the National Palace in Mexico City that contracts for the partially-built US $13-billion project are now being analyzed with a view to formally terminating them in the first half of the year.

“Construction work on the airport is officially suspended and negotiations have already begun to finalize contracts . . .” the secretary said.

The new airport, which was being built on an ancient lakebed in Texcoco, México state, was the signature infrastructure project of former president Enrique Peña Nieto.

But after a widely-criticized four-day consultation on the project in late October, President López Obrador cancelled it, stating that “the decision we have taken . . . is to obey the mandate of the citizens.”

According to information provided by the Mexico City Airport Group (GACM), the state-owned firm responsible for the project, the only ongoing work at the Texcoco site is the construction of a wall around the perimeter of what would have been the X-shaped terminal building.

However, GACM chief Gerardo Ferrando conceded in a radio interview that some other work, on drainage and a partially-built control tower, had not yet stopped.

“It is not a switch you can just turn on or off automatically. Works need to be gradually finished,” he said.

Last month, a majority of bondholders who had invested in the airport agreed to a US $1.8-billion buyback offer from the federal government, which López Obrador said cleared the way for construction of a new, cheaper airport at the Santa Lucía Air Force base in México state.

However, there are 134 existing contracts worth just over 154 billion pesos (US $7.9 billion) that still need to be settled, the GACM said.

López Obrador met with contractors in November and subsequently declared that the companies wouldn’t seek to sue the new government, file injunctions against the cancellation decision or charge fines. That situation doesn’t appear to have changed.

The companies that were building the airport, which the previous government said would be approximately 37% complete at the end of November, will be reimbursed for non-recoverable expenses.

López Obrador railed against the project during last year’s presidential campaign, charging that it was corrupt, too expensive, not needed and being built on an unsuitable site that is sinking.

The Mexican peso took a dive after he announced the decision to cancel the new airport, while Mexican Employers Federation (Coparmex) president Gustavo de Hoyos described the move as “the biggest waste of public resources in the history of the country.”

However, the peso rallied on news that a buyback deal had been reached and finished the year strongly against a weakened US dollar.

In his inaugural speech as president after being sworn in on December 1, López Obrador pledged that the Santa Lucía Air Force base will be operating as Mexico City’s new airport in three years.

The government also plans to upgrade the existing airport in Mexico City and that in Toluca.

It is considering converting part of the Texcoco site into parkland for public use, Ferrando said.

Source: El Economista (sp), Reuters (en) 

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