President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), who will take office on December 1, is organizing an informal public consultation on October 25-28 to purportedly decide the fate of the Mexico City’s New International Airport (NAICM). During the electoral campaign earlier in 2018, AMLO had pledged to carry out the consultation if elected president, arguing that NAICM is a pointless investment stained by mismanagement and diversion of public funds. Reports indicate that the consultation, which is not endorsed by incumbent President Enrique Peña Nieto, will take place in 538 municipalities nationwide, in 1,073 polling stations installed by AMLO’s political party. Voters will be asked whether or not the construction of NAICM, initiated in 2015, should continue. The incoming president had previously announced that rather than funding NAICM, he would seek to expand existing infrastructure near the capital, including Mexico City’s International Airport (MEX) and Toluca’s International Airport (TLC). He further proposed to convert Santa Lucía Air Base into civilian use.
NAICM is one of Mexico’s most controversial infrastructure projects in recent memory. Planned as a solution to growing air traffic in the capital, although 5 billion USD were invested thus far, construction progress is reportedly at approximately 30%. Detractors of the project criticize delays in construction times, a steep rise in costs, and the alleged existence of widespread corruption in construction contracts. Additional criticism has been raised over the location of NAICM, with some geologists claiming the ground is unsuitable to handle an airport, highlighting possible subsidence risks as well as other environmental impacts. Meanwhile, supporters of the NAICM argue that the project will bring many benefits to the national economy, enabling Mexico City to become a major regional transportation hub, subsequently warning about the opportunity costs associated with cancelling the project. In this sense, although AMLO has pledged to cancel construction of NAICM, he is facing considerable pressure from political and business sectors to maintain the project alive. Bearing in mind that the consultation is considered highly irregular, and that only 1,073 polling stations will be installed nationwide, AMLO is unlikely to gain sufficient legitimacy so as to make a final decision based on the polls alone. Although AMLO expressed the results would be binding, showing confidence his supporters would vote his way, we assess that the move likely comes as a result of his electoral pledges, and do not necessarily reflect a final resolve to shut down NAICM. It is likely that the poll is part of AMLO’s efforts to show consistency, and used as a forerunner for a formal consultation after he is invested president, especially if most voters decide against further constructing the airport.