Image credits: Airports Council International (ACI)
News Article

Santa Lucia: A Post-COVID-19 Airport?

By Pedro Alcalá | Tue, 05/19/2020 - 18:48

General Gustavo Ricardo Vallejo Suárez, Chief Engineer of the Felipe Ángeles International Airport project in Santa Lucia, delivered a progress report this week on the status of the airport’s construction. According to Excelsior, as part of his report, General Vallejo was quoted saying that SEDENA “has the opportunity and responsibility of building a major size airport that will be one of the first post-COVID-19 airports in the world. While we are still analyzing this ongoing phenomenon and waiting for a new official international framework in this matter, what this means is that airports in construction will have to account for a new dynamic in terms of passenger interactions and we must study in detail how this will translate into construction specifications.” 

General Vallejo’s comments were clearly hypothetical but worthy of further consideration to determine what exactly would a post-COVID-19 airport look like. An interesting answer can be found on an article published by the Airports Council International (ACI). The article begins with some dire facts: “ACI predicts that the COVID-19 pandemic will wipe out two-fifths of passenger traffic and almost half of revenues for airports in 2020. The immediate imperative of all airports is to ensure financial viability by reducing variable costs, with many airports closing portions of infrastructure, postponing capital expenditure and addressing staffing costs.” What this also implies is that airports will have to double down on whatever revenue streams they can maintain despite the decreasing number of flights, such as rental of commercial spaces. Of course, one could argue that these concerns are less relevant to this new airport with an inauguration date in 2022 that might host a relatively recovered and therefore more active and sustainable air travel industry. The article goes on to detail that recovery for many airports will have to prioritize domestic over international flights, using the example of China, which is reactivating domestic air travel but continuing to severely limit international air travel to avoid a second wave of COVID-19 contagions from countries still in severe stages of the pandemic. 

The article also reports on the new protocols airports could expect to implement as a result of COVID-19. The first one is related to social distancing: maintaining 1.5m of distance between passengers at all checkpoints and queues, which “will aggravate congestion issues faced in airports” and “fundamentally alter each passenger’s processing touchpoint from its layout to throughput. Airports will need to review existing terminal capacity alongside new or existing terminal plans.” To this, you would have to add the additional processing times that extra health and temperature screenings would represent. Needless to say, remote control and automation technologies will play an important role in limiting interactions between airport staff and passengers. The article mentions “Touchless Passenger Processing,” meaning “autonomous, hands-free passenger self-processing solutions throughout the passenger’s journey. Already, many Common User Self Service (CUSS) solutions in the market leverage touchless biometrics such as iris scanning and facial recognition.” 

An initial conclusion to reach here is that the construction of the Felipe Ángeles International Airport will need to account for the extensive additional space that all of these measures would represent and contemplate a technological partner that can help optimize the construction process to accommodate all technologies that will prove necessary to make the airport as pathogen-proof as possible. Some of this could also be accomplished or assisted through official designation. What this means is that the federal government might have to make a choice regarding whether it makes sense to make this airport serve either domestic or international flights (despite its current designation as “international,” the so-called “Metropolitan Airport System” formed by this airport, AICM and the Toluca International Airport, has not been yet detailed and possibly not yet designed). A large volume of this additional investment could be made to make the airport ready for the added risks of international flights. On the other hand, the government could save money on this by making it an airport exclusive to lower-risk domestic flights instead. 

The data used in this article was sourced from:  
Excelsior, Airports Council International (ACI)
Pedro Alcalá Pedro Alcalá Senior Journalist & Industry Analyst