The Meaning of Flying: My take on the new airport of Mexico City

Progress of the New Airport of Mexico City by June 2017. Ernesto Valero Thomas
Progress of the New Airport of Mexico City by June 2017. Ernesto Valero Thomas

The project is ambitious. It pretends to be one of the three biggest airports in the world by 2020. Norman Foster and Fernando Romero have designed a massive X that will host millions of passengers per year. Do we need such an infrastructure in Mexico City? Is this scale necessary? Similar questions were asked in Germany with the new and long delayed airport in Berlin. What is the role of these spaces in cities today?

The act of flying as a mode of human mobility has a relatively brief history. The first commercial trip by airplane was achieved in 1914, in Tampa, Florida. Percival Elliot Fansler, the businessman who promoted the journey wrote that ‘instead of playing around with jazz trips, we can start a real commercial line from somewhere to somewhere else’, The airboat that operated this voyage carried the pilot and only one passenger. The ticket was sold in auction in 10,000 USD in today´s money (Look for the visual document In Flight, published online by The Guardian in 2014).

Everyone can fly at the beginning of the 21st century. In 2013, nearly one-hundred years after the first commercial trip by airboat in Florida, 3,120,448,937 plane tickets were sold across the world, compared to 641,872,888 in 1980 (In Flight, 2014). Cheaper and abundant flights make air travel attractive. China is planning to build 70 new airports in 5 years, in addition to the expansion of 100 existing airports; 39 out of the 47 aviation mega cities are schedule-constrained today.  According to the International Civil Aviation Organization (2012) domestic markets grew by 3.9 percent over 2011. This growth was mainly determined by demand for domestic air travel in the Latin America/Caribbean, Asia/Pacific, and the Middle East regions. Significant contributions to these regional results came from countries such as China, Australia, Indonesia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Japan.

Compared to motorcars, the energy consumption and CO2 emissions from the aviation industry is low. However, its expansion is causing increasing alarm in studies that focus on the environmental impact of mobility. Air travel is estimated to cause about 2.42% of manmade CO2 emissions in the world. While the road transport sector has other non-liquid fuel options available such as electricity, aviation has no alternative at this stage (IATA. 2015). More than 70 individual technologies have been designed in the last decades to improve the fuel efficiency of airplanes; however, the current development status from most of these technologies is low, and the time horizon for their availability extends beyond 2025. The dependence on fossil fuels is likely to persist in the coming decades.

Why did Germans -a society with a culture of strong scrutiny over public expenditure- allow a tortuous and chaotic replacement of its Berlin Schönefeld Airport (1934). Because, along with Mexicans, they understand that aerial mobility is increasingly shaping interactions between cities, and weak aerial infrastructures means isolation. Quite a paradox, isolation instead of global warming emissions.

Progress of the New Airport of Mexico City by June 2017. Ernesto Valero Thomas
Progress of the New Airport of Mexico City by June 2017. Ernesto Valero Thomas
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