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New building at Tijuana airport eases travel for CBX sky-bridge passengers

Binational leaders tour the latest expansion of the Tijuana International Airport on Monday, May 9, 2022.
(Ana Ramirez - The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Transit at the border has increased considerably as the pandemic recovery continues

Tijuana’s international airport opened a new 430,000-square-foot building this week to facilitate travel for thousands of passengers who use the Cross Border Xpress sky bridge daily.

The new processing facility adds more southbound screening lines for Immigration and Customs in Mexico. It will also add nearly 40 check-in counters and two new boarding gates.

The opening of the two-story building Monday stems from a passenger growth at the Tijuana airport and Cross Border Xpress, or CBX. Both have reported a significant economic recovery after the height of the pandemic.

In 2021, CBX welcomed over 2.7 million passengers, a 64 percent increase compared to 2020. Tijuana Airport ended 2021 with a record 9.7 million passengers.

In the first four months of 2022, both have seen an increase compared to the same period last year. Based on those numbers, CBX estimates it will end 2022 with nearly 4 million passengers, while the Tijuana airport estimates another record year with 11 million passengers.

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Photographers film the lastest expansion of the Tijuana International Airport on Monday, May 9, 2022 in Tijuana.
(Ana Ramirez - The San Diego Union-Tribune)

“The economic influence that California and Baja California have is a factor that strengthens the airport’s growth and development,” said Eduardo González, manager of Tijuana International Airport. “It is an ingredient that contributes to the capacity and demand of travelers.”

Around 30 percent of passengers arriving at the Tijuana airport use the cross-border bridge.

The $100 million project is the largest not only in the history of the Tijuana airport, but of the 12 airports in Mexico that are operated by Grupo Aeroportuario del Pacífico, González said.

With the opening of the new building, the Tijuana airport almost doubled in size. González said the new building will meet the demand of travelers expected by 2034.
It is estimated that by that year more than 17 million passengers will transit through the Tijuana airport.

Binational leaders tour the latest expansion of the Tijuana International Airport on Monday, May 9, 2022.
(Ana Ramirez - The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The idea with this modernization and expansion is to attract international flights again. In the past, the Tijuana airport had flights to Beijing, Shanghai (China) and Narita (Japan). “We want them to come back, but we are (also) ready to receive planes from anywhere else.”

Baja California Gov. Marina del Pilar Ávila said she is working with Mexico’s Ministry of Tourism to meet that goal. "(This facility) opens the door to the world for Tijuana to receive thousands of daily visitors, but also to be able to receive international flights to our beloved Tijuana,” she said.

Ávila attended the opening ceremony along with other binational leaders, such as Tijuana Mayor Montserrat Caballero and U.S. Customs and Border Protection Director of Field Operations Sidney Aki, among others.

Marina del Pilar Avila Olmeda, governor of Baja California, and Montserrat Caballero, mayor of Tijuana, tour the latest expansion of the Tijuana International Airport on Monday, May 9, 2022.
(Ana Ramirez - The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The second phase of the project includes the expansion of the northbound area at the Tijuana airport. Construction is expected to be completed within the next few months.

The new building in Tijuana connects directly to the CBX terminal in Otay Mesa. Travelers with boarding passes can cross to either the airport on the Mexico side or the terminal on the U.S. side.

Jorge Goytortúa, executive director of CBX, said the new building “will transform our traveler’s experience.”

Bridge and airport have seen big jump in number of travelers

CBX recently expanded from four to eight double inspection booths for a total of 16 lines available to process passengers arriving from the Tijuana airport.

Goytortúa said the expansion, along with the incorporation of new technology, has made it possible to speed up passenger processing.

It is up to U.S. Customs and Border Protection to determine how many U.S. officers are assigned to the northbound border crossing. Goytortúa said more agents have been requested. “We are working with the authorities,” he said.

He estimated that, on average, the wait time to cross from Mexico into the U.S. at CBX during off-peak hours is around 24 minutes. The goal is to reduce the wait to 15 minutes, he said.

Jorge Goytortua, CEO of Cross Border Xpress, gives a tour of the latest expansion of the Tijuana International Airport on Monday.
(Ana Ramirez - The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The San Diego Association of Governments regional plan includes a proposal to also connect the CBX terminal to the San Diego International Airport by subway.

Hasan Ikhrata, CEO of SANDAG, said the agency expects to start the environmental phase soon. In the best-case scenario, the project could be a reality in five years, he said.


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