The SMA Airfield, not Getting off the Ground Soon
By Jesús Aguado
The opening of the local airfield—identified with the initials SMA—for “attracting tourism with greater buying power” will remain suspended.
In 2013 work done on the strip was not performed correctly by a contractor hired by the Consejo Coordinador Empresarial de San Miguel de Allende (Business Coordinating Council) CCESMA, according to Amigos de la Aviación, an organization interested in the improvement of the airfield when nobody else cared. CCESMA got involved in the project and applied the funds that Amigos had gotten from the state government and, in addition, a PEMEX donation worth a total of 5.5 million pesos for the airport improvements. However, “the contractor was told by CCESMA to ignore the construction plans that had been prepared by the council and approved by the General Direction of Civil Aviation (DGAC),” an Amigos de la Aviación spokesman told Atención.
“The only reason the airfield was closed down by federal inspectors was that the work was not done in accordance with the plans submitted by CCESMA that specifically required leveling of the runway surface before paving. The airport has serious oscillations,” said Russell Henson, treasurer of Amigos de la Aviación.
Atención tried to contact Juan José Álvarez Brunell, who was then the president of CCESMA, but he couldn’t be reached for comment because he is out of the country.
As a candidate for mayor in 2012, Trejo granted an interview to Atención, during which he stressed that San Miguel could not expand its streets or services further, so tourism needed to be focused on attracting bigger buying power to generate larger gross revenue than what tourists currently provide. Trejo remarked that San Miguel needed infrastructure, including the opening of the airfield. “The airfield needs restoration to allow private flights to land. That will allow us to improve tourism in the city.” Later the state governor, Miguel Márquez, commented that in the near future the airfield could handle air taxis. In addition, Fernando Olivera, Secretary of Touristic Development, came up with the idea of domestic flights to main Mexican destinations. Last year, Trejo told Atención that a company de-signated by the General Department of Aeronautics was conducting three studies at the airfield. The results of these studies—soil compacting, use, and adherence—were to be handed over to the local administration. Then the city council would create a local company, made up of members of the local administration and the private sector, which would be in charge of getting the permits from the General Department of Aeronautics to allow the landing of Pilatus, Caravan 206, King Air 186, and other types of aircraft in the first phase of the airfield development. In the second phase, once the local company begins operation, construction of a hangar and a control tower will begin, as well as some electrical work to allow the landing of air taxis, “always respecting the regulations,” Mayor Trejo said.
The third phase of the airfield “will reach out as far as imagination can take us,” remarked Trejo. The mayor said that he did not want sanmiguelenses to see or hear the airplanes. “There will be special entrance and exit into the airspace,” he said, emphasizing that the city’s image would not be damaged.
According to Trejo, the upcoming opportunities for San Miguel are “huge.” In the meantime, he was trying to attract specialized medical companies to invest in the municipality with the advantage of having a landing strip for their air ambulances.
What Amigos de la Aviación says
After several efforts, Amigos de la Aviación, a nonprofit organization “aimed at promoting aviation in general, tourism, and economic opportunities related to aviation in San Miguel de Allende and the surrounding area,” got a permit from the DGAC to operate the airfield. It was good from November 24, 2011, through November 24, 2016. Amigos de la Aviación also achieved a bailment contract with the local administration, then headed by Rodolfo Jurado Maycotte, for administering that municipal property. It was signed on September 3, 2009, to expire on September 3, 2019.
With the goal of obtaining state, federal, and possibly municipal funds—according to documents Atención has obtained—Amigos de la Aviación prepared an economic justification and presentation requesting funds. The presentation stated that to come to this region, travelers had to decide between spending a whole week at the Mexican beach destinations or committing the entire journey to visiting the city. This was because the flights to and from the BJX, MEX, or QRO airports required an entire day of traveling and considerable expense. The document also highlights that “there are no air taxis or airlines offering packages or charter flights on demand in the region to well-known destinations like Oaxaca, Zacatecas, or Veracruz. There are no flights that can provide specialized transportation for weddings, golfers, and other travelers with common interests.”
Amigos de la Aviación expressed what would later be said by Mayor Mauricio Trejo, State Secretariat of Tourism Fernando Olivera Rocha, and Governor Márquez: that air taxis could fly in and out from the SMA airfield to and from the main Mexican destinations, including Puerto Vallarta, Ixtapa, Zihuatanejo, Manzanillo, and others. The organization’s justification continued, stating that turbo-prop planes with a capacity for 12 and 14 people, like the Cessna Caravan 208B, could be efficiently used for the service. They also presented a map with the possible routes and links with pilots’ organizations (more than 800,000 pilots) that travel from the United States to some cities in Mexico and Central America and could be attracted to San Miguel.
According to some members of Amigos de la Aviación, the Consejo Coordinador Empresarial de San Miguel de Allende (CCESMA) Business Coordinating Council, then headed by Juan José Álvarez Brunell, got involved in the Amigos project to attract tourism with a higher buying power and also to help the organization get financial resources for the improvements to the airfield. The council was in charge of the asphalting works, but according to Amigos, they did not follow advice and the work was not performed correctly, leaving oscillations on the strip. The council alleged that they did not need advice or help from the Amigos organization. In 2013, due to the unsuccessful work, the airfield was closed by the DGAC.
Opinion of those involved
Mayor Mauricio Trejo commented in an interview about the airfield that at that very moment he was leaving for Mexico City “to solve those urgent topics.” He also commented that the local administration has conducted studies with specialized companies to define the kinds of planes that can land at the airfield. “There are several studies, but it has to be a safe airfield. I do not have a doubt that the next administration will finish the project along with the state government.” Trejo also commented that the airfield will work under a private-pu-blic administration, but it has to be the next mayor who will define it. “The most important thing is having the license to open it.”
Ricardo Garrido, president of the CCESMA and president of the Tourism Council, told Atención that when they got involved in the airfield project, the strip was in deplorable condition. “It was a 600-meter-long strip, and now it is a 1km-long strip and 20 meters wide. “We did get funds for improving the airfield and performing and supervising the work. The work was concluded, but now it is an airfield with more capacity, and there are many regulations we have to fulfill. It is closed because when there is a restoration, the DGAC has to close the airport to perform the work. It is ready, but the DGAC has to issue the permit for opening the landing strip.” Garrido stated that the strip does not have oscillations. He said in addition that the CCESMA will promote tourism.
Elected Mayor Ricardo Villarreal commented that “the airfield is ready,” and Governor Miguel Márquez made the commitment to Sanmiguelenses to have an FBO (fixed base operation), so people who want to come to San Miguel can arrive without problems here in the city. “We already have the office of the National Institute of Migration and a military base here, but we also need to have the office of the SAT (Tax System). We will work on it. I will not abandon the airfield that has been paid for by the taxes of Guanajuatenses,” he stated. Villarreal also commented that if there are people in Mexico successfully operating airfields, he will bring them to San Miguel to discuss arranging air bridges with the main destinations in Mexico and the United States.
Currently, the bailment contract of Amigos de la Aviación has been ended by city councilor Javier Álvarez Brunell, a legal representative of Miguel Ángel Gastelum Cadena, president of Amigos de la Aviación. The surrender of this bailment was illegal, said Amigos, because Javier Álvarez “did not have legal basis for acting as president of the organization. This meeting and all of his action have no value,” remarked the organization’s spokesman and added, “it was a ploy to steal the airport from the organization.” On December of 2012, Miguel Ángel Gastelum Cadena moved to San Antonio, Texas. He then named Javier Álvarez as his legal representative, believing that he would fairly represent Amigos in the local administration.
Álvarez couldn’t be reached for comment because he and his brother Juan José Álvarez Brunell are out of the country.