In a ceremony on Wednesday, Peruvian president, Ollanta Humala, announced a plan to build an international airport near Cusco which is situated by the well-known tourist attraction, Machu Picchu.
In order to create a new international airport, the president enacted a law to expropriate the land in the town of Chinchero to build the new facility.
The current airport, Alejandro Velasco Astete, is on the outskirts of Cusco and has been unable to withstand the volume of flights due to its limited daytime capacity. It also cannot support the size of major planes because of its geographical location in the hills.
In the recent ceremony, President Humala stated how the new airport was necessary to deal with these inefficiencies. He also announced an investment of US$460m into the project, as well as compensation to the farmers whose land was seized. The president said that the construction will “also generate more jobs and will permit modernisation and added value for the surrounding communities”.
Construction would make the airport closer to the former citadel of the Inca Empire as well as alleviate the traffic pressures from the city of Cusco, which draws an estimated 3,000 tourists per day.
Despite benefits for the economy, there is still concern as to whether the ancient attraction will be able to withstand an increase of tourist traffic. In 1999, with the help of conservationists, UNESCO released a study to the country saying that the increase in pedestrian traffic on the mountainous 48km Inca Trail ruined the geographical infrastructure and, therefore, increased the risks of landslides. Although Peru imposed regulations to the site with restricted access and increased entrance fees, the locals said that the site was still suffering. The report was released more than a decade ago, but the concern still remains.
Currently, tourists venture to Machu Picchu via an approximated 112km trek by foot, bus or train from Cusco. As an UNESCO World Heritage Site, the citadel is internationally protected and for various cultural and environmental reasons. Sitting 2,430m above sea-level and covering 32,500 hectares of tropical mountain forests, it stands as an impressive marker of human interaction within nature. The area also provides a protected environment for some the world’s rare species like the spectacled bear, dwarf brocket, ocelots, and the Andean condor. The UN’s cultural agency has called for Peru to remember to preserve the historical site.
President Humala’s announcement on Wednesday attempted to address the pressures saying that the airport project will not only help tackle poverty, but will also respect the ancient culture.