Cancún International Airport expands

Posted: 3 April 2007 | Fernando Chico Pardo, Chairman and CEO, ASUR | No comments yet

This article presents an overview of the ambitious airport development projects in the region in recent years: the expansion of Cancún International Airport in the southeast of Mexico.

This article presents an overview of the ambitious airport development projects in the region in recent years: the expansion of Cancún International Airport in the southeast of Mexico.

The top tourist spot in the Caribbean region

Cancún and the neighbouring stretch of coast called the Riviera Maya, are the biggest tourist destinations in the entire Caribbean region. Tourism is a major industry in this country and alone this destination accounts for more than one third of all tourist revenues in Mexico.

Visitors, lured by the soft sand of the region’s beaches and its crystalline seas, discover a variety of top-class hotels and luxury resorts, as well as a wide range of things to do: there are seven professional-grade golf courses in and around Cancún; several sites of archaeological interest are situated close by, including the famous Mayan cities of Tulum and Chichen Itzá; and spectacular nature parks such as Xcaret and Xel-Há are a short drive from the city. Add to this the scuba diving and snorkelling on the world’s second largest coral reef, tropical island tours and the full complement of aquatic sports and activities. Its easy to see why Cancún has become the region’s favourite destination.

The city has expanded hotel capacity dramatically in recent years, from around 40,000 rooms in 2000 to approximately 55,000 at present. This 37.5% increase over the last 6 years is expected to continue as a general trend: some forecasters predict that there will be around 90,000 hotel rooms in 2020.

The growth of Cancún has of course been reflected in the number of passengers that travel through the airport. Traffic at Cancún International Airport rose from 7.7 million passengers in 2000 to 10 million in 2004, representing an increase of 29.2%. There was a slight drop in 2005 following the downturn in the local tourist industry caused by hurricanes Emily, in July, and then Wilma in October, which was the worst weather phenomenon to hit the region in over 20 years. However, we are now well on the road to recovery: in 2006 we served a total of 9.7 million travellers.

ASUR – Mexico’s leading airports

ASUR operates a group of nine airports, all located in the southeast region of Mexico, of which Cancún is the biggest. The company was established in 1998 as part of the Mexican government’s plans to begin privatising some of its airports. To this end, one of the first steps taken by the government was to sell an initial 15% stake in the company to a strategic partner with expertise in both the Mexican business environment and airport operations. The remaining 85% held by the government was sold in two public offers, on the 28th September 2000 and 7th March 2005, making ASUR a 100% privately owned company with shares traded on the stock markets of Mexico City (BMV: ticker symbol ASUR) and New York (NYSE: ticker symbol ASR). ASUR was the very first publicly traded airport group on the American continent.

In the years since the privatisation process began, ASUR has successfully positioned itself as the leading airport operator in Mexico, implementing a sustained programme of investment to upgrade all the company’s airports. Since 1999, the company has invested a total of over 227 million dollars in Cancún International Airport alone.

Major investments include extensive runway maintenance and a high-speed runway exit to increase landing and takeoff capacity; the extension and complete remodelling of the airport’s Terminal 2 and FBO Terminal; and the construction of additional aircraft stands on the commercial aviation apron. In general, we have improved service levels for passengers and airlines alike, increased safety standards, upgraded infrastructure and expanded capacity, ensuring efficient operations and reducing waiting times for passengers and costs for airlines.
However, our most ambitious expansion project to date in Cancún is currently under way. Given the growth in passenger figures in excess of expectations, and on the basis of traffic forecasts, at ASUR we have been aware for some time that we need to bring forward some of the capacity expansion projects that we had originally planned for the future.

Sustained growth to meet future demand

The most important of these projects is an entirely new terminal building, Terminal 3, which will almost double the airport’s passenger throughput capacity and guarantee the ability to handle operations peaks for many years to come. The terminal, covering a total of over 40,000 square metres, is designed on two levels: the ground floor houses check-in and arrivals facilities and the top floor contains departure lounges, ensuring the complete separation of arriving and departing passenger flows.

Construction is almost complete, and required 8,800 cubic metres of concrete, 2,400 tons of structural steel and 42,000 square metres of steel decking. The check-in hall measures 120 by 60 metres and is lit during daylight hours by two 80-metre skylights running along each façade of the building. Over 28,000 square metres of stone flooring have been installed, as well as 5,000 square metres of glazing.

All of these diverse elements were brought together as a harmonious whole by our firm of architects, who took inspiration from local elements in the design of the terminal. Façades are clad the region’s typical tikul stone; the pale marble flooring in the interiors is reminiscent of Cancún’s famous white-sand beaches; the blue glass in the terminal’s many large windows reflects the azure skies and turquoise waters of the destination.

When arriving at the airport to take a flight, passengers will enter a spacious, climate-controlled main concourse with all the essential passenger services, such as foreign exchange bureaux and convenience stores for last-minute essentials. The check-in area has a total of 84 counters, all equipped with Common-Use Terminal Equipment (CUTE), so that they may be used flexibly by the different airlines operating from the Terminal.

After check-in, departing passengers will proceed to the upper level, pass through one of the six security filters installed, and enter the boarding lounge. This 15,750-square-metre area is conceived to ensure that our passengers are comfortable and relaxed and to cater to their every possible need while they wait for their flights: in addition to ample seating and panoramic views of the runway through the floor-to-ceiling windows on the airside façade, passengers can enjoy a quiet coffee and a newspaper or a full sit-down meal, have a relaxing massage or a facial at the terminal’s spa, or spend their free time browsing clothes, souvenirs and jewellery, among many other items. Duty-free prices on a wide range of luxury items are available for international passengers travelling both out of and into the airport.

Whilst the emphasis for departing passengers is on comfort and stress-free travel, we understand that the top priority for arriving passengers is to exit the airport as quickly as possible, check in to their hotels and kick off their shoes so they can get some sand between their toes. For this reason, we have designed the arrival flow at Terminal 3 to be as free from bottlenecks as possible. International passengers disembarking from any of the contact stands are channelled via a mezzanine floor directly to the airport’s customs facilities, with 6 filters, and immigration facilities, with 42 counters. The terminal also has two double and two single baggage reclaim bands, with sufficient capacity to handle multiple simultaneous flights.

The terminal building will be able to serve a total of 2,200 arriving passengers and 2,200 departing passengers per hour. There are 11 contact stands that will be served by passenger boarding bridges, and another 3 which are remote stands where passengers will be transported to and from the aircraft on the airport’s fleet of ultramodern Cobus 3000 boarding buses.

The terminal was designed using a “safety first” policy: in addition to the stringent security standards that ASUR applies in all its airports regarding passenger inspection and baggage screening – which I will discuss in greater detail a little later on – Cancún Airport’s Terminal 3 is fitted throughout with total CCTV coverage, state-of-the-art access controls and hurricane-proof glazing capable of withstanding winds of up to 250 kilometres per hour. The terminal also has the most up-to-date fire protection system that incorporates the use of fire-coded materials, manual and automatic fire warning devices, an ultramodern sprinkler system and smoke dampers.

Also as a safety measure, and to ensure maximum comfort and convenience for our passengers, the terminal was conceived in such a way that the acoustics are optimal: in order for safety and flight information announcements over the public address system to be understood as easily as possible, special attention was paid to factors such as the internal ceiling heights, flooring materials and reflective / absorbent wall and ceiling surfaces to reduce noise and control echo.

Security: The number one priority

As part of ASUR’s commitment to safeguarding the passengers and airlines that use our airports, the company contracted additional staff and acquired equipment in all of its airports in order to implement the hold-baggage-screening (HBS) security measures mandated by the ICAO, which became effective all over the world in 2006. ASUR was the only airport group in Mexico to have a fully automated system in place to screen 100% of hold baggage prior to the deadlines of January 1st 2006, for international flights, and July 1st 2006, for domestic flights. This made it possible for us to avoid having to carry out manual searches of passengers’ luggage, which caused considerable delays in the check-in process and inconvenience to passengers in other airports around the world.

In the case of Cancún International Airport, the installation of baggage-screening capacity involved the construction of an entirely new HBS plant covering some 7,800 square metres. The plant is located between Terminals 2 and 3, and is fed from the terminal buildings by a secure, fully enclosed baggage transportation system that makes it impossible for anyone to tamper with bags. The conveyor belt system in and between the airport’s three terminals and the HBS plant is 2,810 metres long in total.

The screening equipment installed in Cancún International Airport is commercially available and has been approved for use by the US Transportation Security Administration.

The HBS plant has nine Computed Tomography (CT) scanners, which rely on a state-of-the-art technology that has never before been used in any Latin American airport. They are completely integrated into the conveyor belt system, have a centring device that reduces blockages and improves the efficiency of the system. The scanners generate a three-dimensional, colour-coded image of the bag being inspected and have a built-in test mechanism that inserts false images for training purposes and to evaluate operator performance.

In addition, Cancún International Airport is equipped with a total of 19 handheld and stationary Explosive Trace Detection (ETD) devices that may be used to inspect everything from people, baggage and vehicles to individual personal effects, such as money, credit cards or items of clothing, which may have had contact of some kind with an explosive substance.

A strong link in a strong chain

We are aware that Cancún Airport is a vital element in the chain of tourist services provided in this important destination. In addition to the business of transporting passengers in and out safely and efficiently, we know that the service and comfort on offer at the airport are what makes the first and final impressions on the people who visit us.

With the measures that ASUR is implementing in Cancún Airport, we are confident that we can continue to provide an outstanding service to passengers and airlines, to the benefit of all our stakeholders, for many years to come.

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