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Turbulence Over the Airport

Restauración de pista de aterrizaje

Ricardo Villarreal

Pista de aterrizaje

Luz María Núñez

By Jesús Aguado

On the road to Dr. Mora in the upper area of the city, there is a 1,600-meter-long landing strip. This landing strip was once unpaved, and now the plan is to increase its length to 2,000 meters and build an international airport on 20 hectares.

The land belongs to the local administration and, according to Governor Miguel Márquez, the city council will be the only responsible party for making decisions for the future of the project. Recently, former mayor (2012-2015) Mauricio Trejo told Atención that this airport project was neither the governor’s idea nor that of the former president of the Entrepreneurs Association (Juan José Álvarez). Márquez noted that there is nothing formal yet regarding the airport.

Still needed are 300 million pesos to build the facilities of the international airport (landing strip, terminals, customs, and a fixed base operation (ground handling facility), but Mayor Ricardo Villarreal let it be known that there are already groups interested in making the project a reality.

Environmentalists in the city have protested in the media against the construction of such a project because, they said, planes taking off and landing at low altitude would impact the migratory birds of the Charco del Ingenio as well as the ecological chain. They also stated that the noise would pollute the air.

Environmentalists and citizens then started question the project, leaving some questions in the air: Do we want more tourism in San Miguel de Allende? Do we have the capacity to satisfy the needs of buying power tourism? Do we have the capacity to have an airport? Where is the Plan of Mobility?

The initial plan was for an airfield, not an airport

Mauricio Trejo was mayor of San Miguel from 2012–2015. He said that he wanted to improve the economy of San Miguel, and that medical tourism with air ambulances, as well as tourism with buying power would be the key. To make it possible, the unpaved landing strip of the airfield needed to be improved. At that field, even in bad conditions, it would be possible to land small airplanes carrying up to 50 passengers, like Pilatus, Cirrus, Cessna, and King Air. Small planes had landed at the field as long ago as 20 or 30 years.

Trejo told Atención that the project he once considered was not for building an airport. It was always thought of as an airfield. When he had a meeting with Juan José Álvarez, now a local legislator, and Governor Márquez, they concluded that the strip needed to be improved if they wanted to attract better tourism. “Tourists with high buying power could fly their private airplanes from Albuquerque, Dallas, and Houston straight to San Miguel de Allende. But the objective was never that of having an airport,” commented Trejo.

The state government gave two million pesos to the Entrepreneurs Association. That money was invested in asphalt for the strip, but later it was said that the General Direction of Civil Aeronautics closed the airfield due to the uneven surface. About that, Mauricio Trejo who, during his administration often said, “in a couple months—or weeks or days—we will open the airfield,” commented, “It is a lie; I make the commitment now to give you documents to prove that the landing strip is in perfect condition to receive planes with a weight up to eight tons. The landing strip does not have uneven surfaces, and it is ready to use.” Trejo added that the General Direction of Aeronautics did not issue the license to operate the airfield because the director was removed three times and more political will was needed.

About the phrase “with this airfield, we will go to where our imagination can take us,” Trejo made it clear that he was always thinking of an airfield, “never of an airport.” If the door is open to commercial airlines, “there will be visual and noise pollution and also, due to the geography of San Miguel de Allende, there is more risk of air accidents. What we need now is to solve the mobility issues,” he commented.

The Environment

Luz María Núñez Flores was mayor of San Miguel de Allende from 2009–2012, and her city council approved the Plan for Ecological and Territorial Management. Once it was published in the Federal Official Paper, some free copies of this paper were handed out to Sanmiguelenses.

The map of the municipality is divided in 60 UGA (Units of Ecological Management). In the document, the UGA 41 was approved, and the airfield is considered there as well as some mining permits. On the other hand, close to the 41 UGA is the Charco del Ingenio, a zone for preservation of flora and fauna. Representatives of that nonprofit organization have stated that the airport project is inappropriate in that zone, not just because airplanes landing and taking off at low altitude would impact the migratory birds, but also because it would generate noise pollution in the area. In addition, they stated in a document that there is no plan for ecological management.

Addressing that information, Governor Márquez made it clear that the government is currently working on getting permits from the Secretariat of Communications and Transportations, and that the landing strip in the 41 UGA can now be used only as an airfield. He also highlighted that if it were an airport, it would not host large planes, “but an airport is very necessary to San Miguel de Allende,” he concluded.

About the information from Charco del Ingenio, Mayor Villarreal said, “I really respect their opinion, but there are two plans approved. The first was approved in 2003–2006 and the second on 2009–2012; those plans designated the space for the airfield. It is nothing new. I think that they have not read the plans. I am working with plans approved by many administrations, not just by mine.” Villarreal also commented that to prevent the ecological impacts in the area, the SEMARNAT (Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources) would have to issue the permits.

Tourism

Trejo said that if a private company is willing to invest 300 million pesos in the airport facilities, they will not be making a good decision because it would not be rentable. Trejo has the theory that San Miguel de Allende and Cabo San Lucas are sister cities now because the government wants to bring charter tourism here and not that of better buying power. “San Miguel has nothing to share with Cabo, but they want to bring the tourism on charter flights that come from the United States to Cabo. They are not the best tourists. The best tourists are those who fly their planes from the States straight to San Miguel de Allende,” Trejo commented. He said that from his perspective neither United nor American Airlines would be willing to fly from Dallas or Houston to San Miguel because they are already operating at BJX and QRO.

Jorge Olalde, vice-president of the Hotel Association, said that the association approves the construction, but he made it clear that at the beginning it would be just for private flights and in the years to come it may be commercial. Also, those who are building it will need to think about how the airport in Celaya did not work and take into account that San Miguel is close to two airports, BJX and QRO.

Núñez declared to this paper that San Miguel needs a Plan of Touristic Charges which could be a very valuable tool for making decisions for long-, medium- and short-term. Núñez mentioned that the idea of the airport is a double-edged sword because on one hand, it brings benefits like better and more comfortable access for tourists to the city, but on the other, it would generate noise pollution in the urban area (which is very small). “The question would be, “Do we want more tourism? Can we satisfy their needs?” concluded Núñez.

The call

Ricardo Villarreal stated that next week the local administration will publish the call for investors. The one with the best project will have control of the airport. Villarreal said that the government will not give a single peso, “as the goverment did years ago, when the money was controlled by a private organization and they misused it.”

Villarreal had previously told Atención that the first plane could be taking off or landing before the end of 2015. Then Secretary of Tourism Fernando Olivera Rocha said that the airport could receive its first flight in December this year. Finally, Governor Márquez said that nothing is certain right now.

 

The city council, headed by Núñez, gave the landing strip to the organization Amigos de la Aviación in bailment. Later the bailment was canceled by Trejo’s city council. Governor Márquez remarked that San Miguel de Allende owns the land. However, Amigos de la Aviación told Atención that they “continue to hold a 20-year comodato issued in September 2009, in spite of efforts by the Trejo administration to discredit and destroy our organization from 2012–2014.

The municipality is indeed the owner of the land, but the Amigos control the property through our comodato and will use our best efforts to prevent the waste (and theft) of any additional funds at the existing airport.”

 

 

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