SAN DIEGO (AP) — A group of private investors that includes Chicago billionaire Sam Zell's Equity Group Investments will open the Cross Border Xpress Wednesday, creating one of the world's only airports to extend across an international border. A new terminal and bridge in San Diego will connect to Tijuana's decades-old existing airport — essentially an extension of Mexico's fifth-busiest airport into the United States.
WILL THE CROSS-BORDER AIRPORT COMPETE WITH SAN DIEGO'S MAIN AIRPORT?
No, say airport officials on both sides of the border.
More than 99 percent of passengers at Tijuana International Airport — about 4.4 million last year — travel in Mexico. Destinations include Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta beach resorts, colonial cities Morelia and Zacatecas and business hubs like Guadalajara and Monterrey. Cross Border Xpress estimates that 60 percent of the airport's passengers cross the border to the U.S.
San Diego's Lindbergh Field, which is located about 20 miles north of the Mexican border, handled 18.7 million passengers last year and is primarily a domestic airport.
WHO WILL USE THE CROSS-BORDER AIRPORT?
Cross Border Xpress, which has capacity for 2.5 million passengers a year, will initially target the Tijuana airport's existing users. They include Mexican-Americans who visit family, business travelers with Mexican suppliers and customers and American tourists.
Airport operators say Tijuana could eventually be used more as a springboard to Asia; it currently has flights to Shanghai. They express interest in running shuttle buses to San Diego Lindbergh's Field to connect to U.S. destinations.
WHAT ELSE IS UNUSUAL?
Nearly all of the roughly 3,330 airports in the U.S. are publicly-owned and operated. Cross Border Xpress will be privately owned and operated.
Only 10 airports pursued privatization under a Federal Aviation Administration effort launched in the 1990s — Chicago Midway International being the largest — and only two went through with it. They were Luis Munoz Marin International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Stewart International Airport in Newburgh, New York.
The Government Accountability Office found several reasons for lack of support last year: higher financing costs; lack of state and local tax exemptions; time and other costs.
Many countries around the world, including Mexico in the late 1990s, have privatized airports to pay for upgrades and to raise money for other projects.