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AIRPORT PROFILES Last modified on October 29, 2012

Viva Mexico! Airport operator plans ambitious development programme

Joe Bates and Mike Bernos discover more about the ambition and development plans of Grupo Aeroportuario del Pacifico (GAP) and its popular tourist gateways of Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos.

These are interesting times for Mexican airport operator Grupo Aeroportuario del Pacifico (GAP), which has responded to falling passenger demand by undertaking one of the boldest airport development programmes in Latin America!

The revamp includes major upgrades at Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos airports while, along with private investors, it has received approval for a cross-border terminal at Tijuana’s AL Rodriguez International Airport that would allow users to literally walk between Mexico and the US across a 525ft long pedestrian bridge.

The latter project – which involves a third party building a 45,000 square foot terminal in San Diego’s Otay Mesa district that would house US Customs and Border Protection facilities – has already cleared a number of hurdles on both sides of the border and will be the first airport facility of its kind along the US/Mexico border.

GAP CEO, Fernando Bosque, says: “We got the go-ahead a few months ago and are waiting for Mexico’s Communication and Transportation Secretary to award the concession for the bridge to both Tijuana airport and the new cross border terminal in Otay Mesa, which theoretically means that the new facilities could be in use as early as late 2013 or early 2014.

“What will Tijuana airport get out of it? More passengers, hopefully, as I know the San Diego Airport has no room to grow for additional capacity and we have excess capacity at Tijuana’s airport. This will be a private bridge that can only be used by passengers with a boarding pass who are willing to pay a small fee for the convenience of a quick and easy border crossing.”

Mexico's top 10 airports in 2011
1.    Mexico City – 26.3 million (+9.3%)
2.    Cancún – 13 million (+4.7%)
3.    Guadalajara – 7.2 million (+3.6%)
4.    Monterrey – 5.58 (+3.8%)
5.    Tijuana – 3.5% (-4.1%)
6.    Los Cabos – 2.8 million (+2.2%)
7.    Puerto Vallarta – 2.5 million (-7.3%)
8.    Toluca – 1.48 million (-31%)
9.    Mérida – 1.2 million (+8%)
10.  Hermosillo – 1.2 million (+5.5%)


To put things in perspective, GAP still operates five of the top 10 busiest airports in Mexico, and passenger traffic at its biggest gateway, Guadalajara International Airport, increased by 3.6% last year.

Indeed, traffic across its 12 airport system – GAP owns and operates the airports of Guadalajara, Tijuana, Puerto Vallarta, Los Cabos, La Paz, Manzanillo, Hermosillo, Guanajuato, Morelia, Aguascalientes, Mexicali and Los Mochis – remained static at 20.2 million last year.

But the figure is still way down on 2007’s all-time high of 23.4 million, and traffic at Puerto Vallarta on Mexico’s popular Pacific coast was down 7.3% to 2.5 million for the year.

Bosque attributes GAP’S system wide dip in traffic to a combination of the global economic downturn, the US’s sluggish economy and possible fears about safety in Mexico.

Bosque is, however, quick to point out that there has never been any gang related incident of any kind at GAP’s airports, and notes that it hasn’t been alone amongst Mexican airport operators in experiencing a downturn in traffic at some of its gateways.

On the bright side, Bosque notes, Hermosillo (+5.5%) and Los Cabos (+2.2%) both enjoyed a healthy rise in passengers in 2011.

And he says that this year has been much better for GAP, with passenger traffic across its entire airport system rising 5.8% in the first nine months of 2012.

The upturn has been driven by a 6.8% increase in passenger traffic at perennial star performer Los Cabos – it became Mexico’s third busiest airport in 2011 – while Puerto Vallarta has reported a more modest 1.8% rise in throughput so far this year.

“Traffic is coming back, but I am realistic enough to know that it will take a few more years for us to get back to the 2007 levels, primarily down to the drop in US passengers, both tourists and business travellers, which account for 35% of our international passengers,” says Bosque.

“In the meantime, what we have to do is make our airport’s more appealing to both passengers and airlines, and I think the development projects at Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos are great examples of what we are trying to achieve in terms of operating modern, user-friendly facilities.

“We are also confident that new aircraft such as the Boeing Dreamliner will encourage airlines to introduce more non-stop routes to our airports.”

Tourist gateways
GAP has invested heavily in transforming its tourist-centric airports of Puerto Vallarta, Los Cabos, Manzanillo and La Paz into “world-class facilities” since a public flotation of its shares in 2006.

Part of the revamp has involved the introduction of a host of new brand-name retail outlets that last year helped boost GAP’s total revenues to $380 million.

Between them, the jewel in the crown of GAP’s ‘tourist’ gateways – Puerto Vallarta (PVR) and Los Cabos (SJD) – account for more than 26.4% of all its passengers and 36.8% of the airport operator’s total revenues.

Indeed, Los Cabos remains Mexico’s second leading tourist destination and GAP is preparing for the eventual uptick in tourists by expanding its terminal from 15,000sqm to 42,518sqm.

And it is not alone as the third and final phase of PVR’s development programme – a 6,100sqm “international” space – is due to be completed and fully operational at the end of 2012.

Puerto Vallarta
When completed, Puerto Vallarta–Gustavo Díaz Ordaz International Airport’s new look terminal will boast 6,500sqm of commercial space filled with 67 retail outlets and 15 restaurants and bars that the airport’s management team hope will increase its retail revenues by up to 15%.

However, GAP’s regional director of Puerto Vallarta and La Paz airports, Francisco Villaseñor, is quick to make it clear that the upgrade is not only about adding new commercial outlets.

“We are also improving our infrastructure to prevent any passenger bottlenecks,” he says, noting that the build-out adds three new gates (bringing the total to 15) and coincides with a complete rehab of the 3,100m runway.

The airport has also invested in new fire rescue equipment and a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system.

“One of GAP’s priorities is to take customer service very seriously, and this goal means that we conduct passenger surveys throughout the year to make sure that we have our finger on the pulse and constantly improve the service we offer,” says Villaseñor.

“Last year, passengers told us that one of things they didn’t like about the terminal was the air conditioning, so this year we installed a new system. We really do listen to our customers, which is maybe why we are one of the top rated airports in Mexico.”

Villaseñor says that GAP is also actively working to increase the number of non-stop routes to Puerto Vallarta, to make it quicker and easier for passengers to travel to the airport.

And, he says that new research presented to the Mexican government by consultancy firm, ICF SH&E, found that Puerto Vallarta is the most likely of Mexico’s destinations to benefit from an increase in international flights.

“Clearly, the downturn in the US economy has affected us as the number of American tourists has decreased, but our research shows that when the economy turns around, we will be ready and one of the largest benefactors,” says Villaseñor.

Already, Villaseñor says there are positive signs at PVR with passenger numbers rising by 1.8% to 1.9 million in the first nine months of 2012, and he expects the upturn to pick up with some new initiatives that are being rolled out next year.  

“Although we estimate slow growth for the next two years, we expect that our passenger traffic will increase due to a marketing programme designed to bring in more airlines from South America, Europe and the US,” he says.

“This will augment our existing big markets of America, Mexico and Canada whose percentages are 51, 30 and 19 respectively.”  

He says that the initiative is a collective effort on the part of the Puerto Vallarta Office of Convention and Visitors (OCV), the State of Jalisco, the Federal Secretary of Tourism and the Council of Promotion and Tourism in Mexico (CPTM). 

During the high season of October through April, PVR is served by 18 international airlines primarily operating services to destinations in the US and Canada.

The most popular international routes year-round are Los Angeles, Houston and Dallas in the US while the bulk of the domestic traffic goes to Guadalajara and Mexico City.

Los Cabos
A little ahead of PVR in tourist numbers in Los Cabos International Airport, which, by virtue of its location in the Baja California peninsula, has been insulated from the security concerns that have impacted on some Mexican cities. But as GAP’s regional director of Los Cabos and La Paz (LPB) airports, Martin Zazueta, explains, life has not been without its challenges.

“In 2008 there was a flu outbreak which lasted until 2011, and we are now finally showing improvement,” says Zazueta, an 18-year veteran in the airline industry. 

“We have had a 6% increase in passenger growth from 2.7 million in 2011 to a projected three million by the end of 2012, which would be a record.”

He says the biggest carriers are United, US Airways and Alaska Air, adding that the American market makes up 50% of its passengers, with Canada at 8% and Europe at 2%.

“Right now, the European market is challenging because of connectivity issues,” says Zazueta. “However, we are hoping larger planes such as the Boeing Dreamliner will open up more global markets.”

Zazueta says like PVR, Los Cabos has been unaffected by Mexico’s drug problem, and to some extent the global economic downturn, because 65% of its passengers are Americans and Canadians, many of whom have second homes in Los Cabos.

The area is considered one of the great resort regions of the world with fishing, golf and pristine beaches, and, according to Zazueta, 42% of all visitors to his airport own a timeshare in Los Cabos. 

He says the most popular routes are Houston and Los Angeles, with Atlanta and Phoenix being big feeders as well.

Zazueta says the type of tourist Los Cabos attracts spends more money on average than other tourists to Mexico and, as a result, the airport is investing to capture that revenue.

“The current five-year plan, which ends in 2013, will show an investment of $70 million in the airport,” he says. “Without a doubt, we will capture some of that tourist revenue.”

On November 1, Zazueta says Los Cabos will open a new three-level terminal, which doubles its current size of 31,000sqm. The structure is the first of GAP’s new terminals designed to reflect the character of the region, welcoming passengers with natural light filtered through the building’s copious windows and glass. 

It will have eight gates and will feature over 6,000sqm of commercial space to help attract tourists into retail shops, bars and restaurants.

The first level will be designed for arrival flights and immigration, with ticketing on the second level, and boarding, security and duty-free shops on the third.

Currently, Los Cabos has one 3,000m runway, but is planning another one within the next five years. 

GAP CEO, Fernando Bosque, for one, is optimistically looking forward to a bright future for the Mexican airport operator characterised by traffic growth and rising commercial revenues.

“I am postive that infrastucture development at our airports, an improving global economy and new aircraft coming online will
prove the catalyst for future growth across our airport system,” says Bosque.

Bottom line: new seating for GAP airports
Arconas has been selected by Grupo Aeroportuario del Pacifico (GAP) as the new seating supplier for the terminal renovation projects in Puerto Vallarta, Los Cabos, and Tijuana airports.

GAP believes that its Flyaway seating system will offer its passengers a more dynamic hold room environment that addresses the needs of both business and leisure travellers.

Arconas’ executive vice president, Pablo Reich, explains: “Our Flyaway system was chosen based on its high degree of comfort as well as its range of configurations such as traditional linear and triangular clusters, and accessories such as footrests and modular power.”

Reich says that the Canadian-based seating company worked together with GAP architects, operations and maintenance staff for months to develop the best and most creative seating layouts for the three airports.

In addition to airports, Arconas provides seating for a range of clients that include transportation terminals, government and corporate offices, universities and health care centres.

It claims that working closely with renowned industrial designers ensures that it creates highly designed yet durable seating products
for high traffic areas such as airport terminals.
Visit arconas.com for more information.


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