Two passenger planes nearly crashed into each other on Saturday, May 7 at Mexico City International Airport. Air traffic control at MEX had cleared an Airbus A320neo to land on the same runway where a different Airbus A320 awaited clearance to take off. In a video posted to Twitter, we see the incoming plane fly right over the plane waiting to take off. A difference of a few seconds could have caused a disaster. Both planes belong to carrier Volaris, which says it’s investigating the “go around” incident.
Aviation Online goes into full detail regarding the incident, tracking the inbound and outbound flights (link is in Spanish). For reference, the Airbus A320neo can seat up to 194 passengers, while the standard A320 can seat up to 186. The Mexican government is now investigating the incident, per El Universal (link in Spanish). But the air traffic control tower that oversaw this near-disaster is not the only party taking blame. The director of Mexico’s federal airspace department (SENEAM) has now resigned, in light of the fact that this was not the first such incident at a Mexican airport, as the Spanish-language El País reports.
The incident comes as public opinion has soured on a number of federal transportation agencies, and on the administration of Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (known as AMLO), whose initiatives to overhaul the country’s transportation have been the subject of criticism and scrutiny because of the infrastructure changes needed.
The airspace over Mexico City was redesigned — by the SENEAM director who just resigned — to accommodate a new airport requested by AMLO, the Felipe Ángeles International Airport. This new airport is supposed to operate in tandem with the current Mexico City airport, but its operation hasn’t scaled successfully and the new airport is being blamed for disarray in the city’s airspace.
Reuters reports numerous teething problems at Felipe Ángeles airport (AIFA), and that’s putting it mildly. Following its inauguration, the international airport had one single flight scheduled. The issues at the airport have to do with coordinating air traffic in the shared airspace, which has proven difficult according to the AFP:
Experts have previously highlighted the challenges of operating two airports in a city surrounded by mountains and at an altitude of more than 2,200 meters (around 7,300 feet) above sea level.
So far airlines are operating only a small number of daily flights from Felipe Angeles International Airport, a flagship project of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador built at a military air base north of the capital.
So far, 17 ground-proximity incidents have been recorded, among other safety issues, all within the short time since the new airport opened in April of 2022. While the idea for a second air hub may have been a good one given the 50 million travelers that passed through the city’s airport in 2019, the execution and planning behind AMLO’s airport hasn’t been great. Here’s hoping they at least figure out how to limit their runways to one plane at a time.