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DHL will be the first freighter operator to move flights serving Mexico City from the city’s main airport, Benito Juarez (MEX), to Felipe Angeles International, which opened last March.
The move will set a clock ticking for other all-cargo carriers at MEX to move to Felipe Angeles, or find alternative options to serve the capital.
The Mexican air cargo industry has been in turmoil since a draft of a government decree to banish pure cargo operators from the country’s biggest gateway was leaked. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has confirmed the decision, citing congestion.
MEX has been chronically congested for years and the previous administration had embarked on construction of a new airport to serve the capital, a project binned by the current government after it took office in 2018.
Instead, it was decided to expand MEX, as well as Toluca Airport and the Santa Lucia air force base.
Mr López Obrador announced this week that the first DHL freighter flight at Felipe Angeles, planned for late February, would formally establish the presidential decree mandating the exit of pure all-cargo operations from MEX.
The decree does not affect carriers that operate both passenger and cargo flights, such as Lufthansa. For the German carrier a mandate to move would be a bitter pill, as it has its own handling operation at MEX.
However, the decree has caused uproar in the air cargo community, partly because Felipe Angeles is not ready to accommodate a large influx of freighter activities, and also because of the narrow window the authorities are giving operators to leave MEX.
The initial plan envisaged 90 days for the move to be completed, which drew criticism from carriers and IATA, which slammed the plan as “not feasible, given the enormous technical, regulatory and infrastructural requirements associated with this transfer”.
The authorities have since extended the window to 108 days, despite airlines asking for 180-365 days to complete the move.
But in a written submission to the regulator, Cargolux has argued that 108 days would not be sufficient and called for for the mandate to be suspended until a detailed analysis of the implications and costs – with participation from all affected parties – had been completed, noting that a comprehensive impact study had not been conducted.
Even if airlines were able to complete the move in time, they would face operational obstacles; Felipe Angeles is not ready. IATA mentioned a lack of properly equipped cargo warehouses and customs systems, a shortage of customs brokers and registered agents and a lack of certifications required for exports.
One industry executive reported that two weeks ago, there were about 20 authorised customs brokers at Felipe Angeles, compared with some 300 at MEX. Moreover, brokers cannot validate documents owing to inadequate connectivity to customs.
And the plan to evict freighters from MEX comes at a busy time: Carlos Duron, president of Mexpress, which runs a bonded airfreight trucking service across the US-Mexican border, said his company had seen tremendous growth, in part as a result of US companies shifting some sourcing from Asia to the Americas, where Mexico has been identified as the strongest candidate.
Mexpress is about to launch two scheduled cross-border services from Dallas, to Puebla and Ramos Arizpe, where auto maker General Motors operates a plant. So far it has served these airports on an ad hoc basis.
Some airlines have talked of airports other than Felipe Angeles to serve the Mexican capital, said Mr Duron. They are looking at Toluca, Queretaro and Puebla.
In the meantime, Mexpress is going to run trucks to Felipe Angeles. He said: “We can operate starting tomorrow, if the infrastructure allows us to.”