By Juan Tolentino Morales for Expansion
Only seven of the 19 airports administered by ASA have returned to 2019 levels, while some terminals maintain drops of up to more than 90%.
While most of the country’s airports have recovered pre-pandemic passenger traffic, government-operated terminals cannot tell the same story. Only seven of the 19 airports operated by Aeropuertos y Servicios Auxiliares (ASA) have recovered, and although the state-owned company’s traffic has risen overall, the growth has not been widespread.
Between January and July of this year ASA served 2.1 million passengers in total, 10% more than in the same period of 2019. However, the growth -of 193,281 passengers- was mainly driven by a single airport: that of Puerto Escondido, whose traffic rose 82% by registering 188,192 passengers more than in 2019.
In fact, the data points to the fact that growth was concentrated in the airports with the highest volumes within ASA’s portfolio. This is the case of Puebla International Airport -the company’s largest terminal, which grew 4% in passengers- and Chetumal Airport, the third largest in passengers and which grew 10% against 2019.
Behind this trend there is a problem of origin. Until 1998, all airports in Mexico were under the operation of ASA, which managed 58 terminals, a portfolio that was reduced after the privatization of the 35 most profitable airports in the country with the creation of four airport groups: Asur (Grupo Aeroportuario del Sureste), OMA (Grupo Aeroportuario del Centro-Norte), GAP (Grupo Aeroportuario del Pacífico) and the Mexico City International Airport (AICM).
With this, ASA was left with the least attractive airports in terms of volume and profitability.
“They are loss-making airports, operating at a loss from the beginning. They only have a subsidy in the Federal Expenditure Budget, a budgetary item granted year after year, which is not enough to invest in new equipment, facilities, etc.,” explains Fernando Gómez Suárez, an air sector specialist.
Hence, the recovery of several terminals has been in dribs and drabs, a trend that has been accentuated mainly in airports such as Poza Rica, which in the first seven months of the year remained with a loss of 93% of passengers in 2019. In a similar situation are other complexes such as Ixtepec (with a drop of 82% in the same period) and Ciudad Victoria (operating at one third of 2019 levels).
Investments are one of the factors that usually affect the performance of airports, which coincides with the case of Puerto Escondido International Airport, which had a budget of 196.2 million pesos for its modernization, the largest bag of resources compared to other complexes such as Puebla (with an investment of 84.9 million), Colima (81.8 million) and Campeche (135.5 million).
For Gómez Suárez, the low attractiveness of other airports is due to the fall of some industrial sectors -and, with it, of several business destinations-, together with the lack of investments and a promotion strategy.
“It is a symbiosis. A strategy must be established between the destination or airport and the airlines, working with the three levels of government so that they have the necessary mechanisms to stimulate this market,” he concludes.