There has been lots of interest from the recent blog I wrote on the airport expansion project in Chetumal, so I thought an update on the progress might be due. If you missed that original blog, click here to review that article. There has been a lot going on and some new info about the flights that will be coming in, and even some from the US. The work seems to be moving along nicely but I still can’t get a completion date. It should not be much longer though, as the airport has already hired new staff and so have a couple air carriers who will keep small staffs in Chetumal. We have to be getting close!
As for the construction, most of the terminal addition and new customs areas are complete. The bulk of the remaining work is on the runway extension. Much of the new runway work is being done in a very thick forested area, so the work is not visible to the casual passerby. In my previous blog I had mentioned that the land the airport is built on, and being expanded into, was owned by a native tribe, and that a value was still being determined for that property and needed to be agreed upon. A few weeks ago it was reported in the local newspaper, that valuation was complete, and had been submitted to the tribe, and all seemed okay. That could have been a stumbling block, as often the valuation of these sort of property transfers are contested and the result is protest and shutdowns, none of which we have seen on this project, which makes me think all is okay and proceeding. If there were a disputed value, we would know by now, as the tribes people would have stopped the construction. That is for sure.
Once the ownership issue was resolved, there was still the matter of approval to clear more vegetation to allow construction of the last 200 meters of runway. The total amount of runway needed to add was 500 meters and area of the first 300 meters had been previously cleared, but not built on, for the original airport construction. Permission to work in that area was not needed. To clear the area needed for the last 200 meters though, an approval process with SEMARNAT, the government entity that oversees environmental compliance’s, had to be completed and that process is now also done. Removing vegetation in coastal areas, even an urban area like Chetumal, still must meet very strict environmental impact compliance regulations. Remember, all of the Costa Maya, which includes Chetumal, is part of a low environmental impact area. Nothing is developed here, not even an airport, until it environmental impact is determined and either deemed acceptable or mitigated. The area cleared had to have a complete environmental impact study done to identify the vegetation and impact equation, and the damage had to be mitigated elsewhere to balance out the overall impact. What that means is that land elsewhere in the same eco-area, had to be purchased and permanently dedicated as green-space to counter the removal of the vegetation needed to complete the runway. It is very similar to the process done in the US.
The new runway will total 2700 meters and will now allow larger aircraft to land in Chetumal. Currently, the largest planes allowed to land on the existing runway are B-737 and A-320, but this expansion will allow for larger planes. Airport owners are currently in discussion with airlines to bring regional flights from as close as Merida and as far away as Guadalajara. They are also discussing, I do not know with which airline, flights from Houston Texas and Miami Florida. A lot is happening on the new activity and I will update that as that info become available.
Another bit of news is that this airport expansion is part of multi-nation, regional effort to develop infrastructure between the partner countries to better promote travel and commerce. The plan, originally the Puebla-Panama Plan, now Mesoamerica Plan, includes Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica , El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama; and includes the Mexican states of Campeche, Chiapas, Guerrero, Tabasco, Veracruz, Yucatan and Quintana Roo. It is a plan to increase connectivity throughout the region between these countries via land, air, ocean, governmental and electronically. Not sure what all the plans are for that effort but perhaps a good subject for a future blog. New flights from Mexico City are still set to begin in November but I’m not sure much beyond that. My guess is that new airlines and their flights will be announced slowly over the next few years.
It is an exciting time here in Southern Quintana Roo as we are connecting to the rest of Mexico and the entire world. I’ve watched over the last 10 years as the area’s infrastructure began to expand and connect this part of the world, once remote and primative, to the new and modern world. Communication lines and cables have connected the region, and it has grown, both physically, as well as economically and socially. Unlike the northern part of the state, where the Riviera Maya/Cancun area made that connection decades ago, the southern part of the state remained primative and prestine, but also needing many of the convieniences that modern infrastucture can provide. The airport expansion is the latest extention of that process and the result will be a very happy and prosperous one for the area. And it might make going home to see Mom and Dad a little easier for me!