Federico Patiño
Director General
Grupo Aeroportuario de la Cuidad de México (GACM)
View from the Top

Mexico Building Its Door to the World

Tue, 11/01/2016 - 22:53

Q: What do Mexicans expect from the New Mexico City International Airport (NAICM) and what initial feedback has been received from the public?

A: NAICM will be Mexico’s door to the rest of the world. The project itself will become one of the globe’s most intricate infrastructure projects. Mexico’s favorable geographic location creates a variety of needs this mega construction must meet. According to the NIP, this international airport will become an international hub as well as a logistics platform for the rest of the world. It will spark the country’s economic and social development.

The complexity of the project demands the participation of the best players in the industry, which includes Arup, the master-plan developer; the best architect firm for airport design, Foster + Partners in a joint venture with Fr-ee; the most experienced project management company, Parsons; and the expertise of Netherlands Airport Consultants (NACO) who have participated in the development of more than 400 airports worldwide.

This international flagship project will put Mexico on the map and will demonstrate the country’s ability to develop immense infrastructure in an efficient and transparent manner. Its success will boost the self-esteem of the Mexican population and highlight Mexico’s untapped abilities and strengths. The new airport will be far more than just another piece of majestic infrastructure. It will become an economic focal point that will create a balance between the western and eastern areas of the city. The west side has a lower density and offers a broad variety of services, while the east is overpopulated with few services available, such that it craves development. This project is groundbreaking. The current administration has learned from its predecessor’s mistakes in approaching airport design and has taken adequate precautions. The government conducted surveys, met with citizens and adapted solutions to suggestions. Design of the strips and the structure were adapted to the needs of the surrounding areas.

Q: What criteria did GACM use to decide where the new airport would be located?

A: This airport has been one of the most deliberated projects in Mexico’s history. Texcoco was chosen due to its geographical location and because of its unique climate characteristics. Not having to purchase the land was a great advantage for the project because the cost of more than 5,000ha would have completely destroyed its viability. The land to be used was already federal property but it previously was a lake. Building on this type of terrain has downsides. The subsoil is incredibly unstable and many rivers surround it. Technological advances since the studies began will allow us to construct a perfect airport. It will be an incredible challenge but with the support of experts from the Netherlands and their extensive knowledge, it is possible.

Q: What are the challenges of building an airport on top of a lake?

A: This project will involve different types of foundation techniques. The preload method will be used on the runways and the terminal building will use a compensated method. Different foundation techniques are used for different purposes. The construction manager, engineers and the master architect will be working with Arup on the engineering part of the project. The runways, taxiways and aprons will be designed by NACO, which has been performing tests to see which foundation method was the most efficient and at what rate they would sink. This is a difficult task and requires a great deal of experience.

Delays are often caused by the results of trials when we believe the terrain will behave in a certain way but actually behaves completely differently. If we want to complete a project on time and on budget we must factor each individual project and technology into our deadlines, which will also reduce the amount of risk involved. There are many consultants and engineers involved in the various projects, all of whom propose the use of different technologies. They must collaborate with NACO because it is directing the project and although it is strict, it always finishes on time.

Q: What characteristics of the winning proposal surprised GACM?

A: The tender for the new airport design demanded a company that had previous experience building an airport with a capacity of more than 30 million passengers. Eight Mexican companies accepted the challenge and submitted innovative designs but not one had experience working on such a sizeable project. This led the participants to develop strategic partnerships with foreign companies that did. We encouraged partnerships between national and international companies that attracted industry leaders across the world.

The presentation of the proposals took two days, during which each company was allotted two hours to pitch their design. With such an impressive array of proposals, choosing a winner was a close to impossible task. The winning proposal had to have an avant-garde architectural design that would physically represent the country’s ambitions for the project in addition to being functional. The final proposal did not include the Automated People Mover, saving a great deal of money because creating a seven-meter tunnel would be unpredictable on this type of terrain. It possessed a concave structure making it the lightest proposal of all, which was an imperative given the terrain to be used.

Q: How will GACM ensure that the project follows the established timeline and stays on budget?

A: One of the biggest challenges we will face will be finishing on time and on budget, which is a trial for any megaproject. Of all of the megaprojects constructed around the world, only 6 percent are actually finished on time and within budget but we are optimistic the new airport will be one of those. We have experienced setbacks in some phases but thanks to close collaboration between Parsons and the engineers, we have been able to identify fast tracks that will allow us to mitigate any future delays. By carefully monitoring processes, we will fulfil all of our objectives on schedule.

Q: What percentage of the airport will contain national content?

A: GACM developed 21 large project packages and a number of accompanying smaller packages. We ensured we created tenders in which only national companies could participate, as well as international tenders to which anybody could contribute. In June, we announced these packages and due dates to the market so companies could begin making arrangements and looking for partners. Mexican companies have developed strong bonds with European, Asian and Latin American companies, which is great because the Mexican labor force will be carrying out the construction. In some cases a foreign company will be in complete control. There are only four luggage supplier systems at an international level and none of them are Mexican. The terminal building, the most emblematic part of the airport, will be constructed by international and national partnerships.

Q: How will GACM connect the airport with the rest of the city and improve mobility to other states?

A: An urban mobility program is being created alongside the airport’s design, which will integrate three different modes of transportation. Based on examples from other countries, such as John F. Kennedy airport in New York, we could create an air train to transport passengers from the Jamaica neighborhood to the airport. In this plan, lines 4 and 6 of the Metrobús will be extended, along with the green metro line. This plan contains 12 mobility projects that will extend the reach of existing transportation infrastructure and optimize transport times to and from the airport.

Transparency is a priority for this project and when it is transferred to another administration, the same transparency will have to be maintained until the project is finalized and throughout all of its years of operation. Combining all of these elements, working as a team and ensuring transparency throughout the process we will see the first flight take off in October 2020 from the New Mexico City International Airport.