Construction proceeds at Mexico City's new airport. Construction proceeds at Mexico City's new airport.

Political uncertainty no deterrent to airport

Leading presidential candidate opposes the project but work continues apace

Thousands of workers are forging ahead with the construction of the new Mexico City International Airport (NAICM) despite some political uncertainty about its future.

A reporter for the newspaper El Universal, who recently visited the site, described a scene of “feverish activity” that is rapidly transforming the landscape.

The first stage of the massive project is expected to be ready to start operations in 2020 and will have the initial capacity to handle 70 million passengers per year.

That figure represents a significant increase on the 42 million people who annually use the existing airport, which is currently stretched beyond its capacity.

Located next to the Peñón-Texcoco highway in the state of México, the new airport’s 5,000-hectare site extends across boggy land that was once covered by Lake Texcoco.

Because of the unique topography, before any construction work could begin a system called deep foundation or piling had to be installed to slow down the rate at which the site is sinking.

Layers of geotextiles and tezontle were also put in place to prepare the land for the enormous weight that the runways will have to bear.

President Enrique Peña Nieto first announced the ambitious plan in 2014 and the new airport is considered the signature infrastructure project of his administration.

However, with an election on July 1 and a transition of power to an opposition party likely, some fear that the new airport will never be finished.

The current frontrunner in the polls, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has expressed opposition to the new facility and indicated that he may move to scrap it should he become the next president.

But for now, at least, the project marches on and it appears that work is on track.

That is in contrast to some reports last year that said that the airport was bogged down and there was a possibility that it would miss its scheduled 2020 opening date.

The first stage of the project includes three runways that will operate simultaneously, a 90-meter control tower and a sprawling passenger terminal.

The latter will have a distinctive X shape that alludes to the name of the country to which the airport is its main international gateway.

It was designed by British architect Norman Foster in collaboration with Fernando Romero, the son-in-law of Mexico’s richest man, Carlos Slim.

The building’s chief engineer told El Universal that the roof of the four-level terminal will be supported by 21 columns, each one different and designed specifically to meet the building’s requirements.

Óscar Díaz González Palomas explained that up to 10,000 workers will be needed to place the 45-meter steel columns in place.

Each column will function like a funnel with the capacity to capture rainwater, treat it and then distribute it for use in different parts of the airport.

Together they will also eliminate the need for walls on each level of the terminal and help to enable fresh air and natural light to flow into the building.

The bases for each column are expected to be ready this month and the plan is to erect two columns per month, Díaz explained.

The terminal will also feature a fully automated baggage handling system that will cover a space almost 40 meters long.

Work on the air traffic control tower is also progressing and 96% of its slab foundation has now been completed. The tower will be located between runways 2 and 3 and will also have a ground control building measuring 65 meters in diameter.

The Navigation Services for Mexican Airspace (Seneam), a division of the federal Transportation Secretariat (SCT), will be responsible for fitting out the tower.

The engineer overseeing the tower’s construction told El Universal that recent earthquakes have not had any effect on the work and that measures have been implemented to safeguard the tower and other airport facilities against future seismic activity.

“. . . We have installed 12 base isolation systems that . . . will offer security in the face of any seismic event,” Abel Casados said.

Preloading work has also been fully completed on runways 2 and 3. The resident engineer, Enrique Romero, explained that more than 5.5 million square meters of tezontle were installed in three layers before a layer of basalt was also laid and leveled.

Work will soon begin on the installation of the runways’ navigation aids, Romero said.

The total cost of the new airport is estimated to be around US $13 billion.

Source: El Universal (sp)

Reader forum