Construction of a new airport near the famed ruins of Machu Picchu is going ahead despite local concerns over corruption and the environmental impacts such a large project could have on the delicate mountaintop ecosystem of Peru's Sacred Valley.
Planned for Chinchero, between Machu Picchu and Cusco, the new airport has the blessing of Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, who says the $460 million project will boost tourism, create jobs and "permit modernization," The Telegraph reports.
The current Cusco airport, Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport, "only operates with limited daytime flights," The Telegraph reported in 2012, "and is limited by its location in a city, surrounded by hills. Large aircraft cannot fly into the facility."
An atmospheric video introducing new airport, which would be named Chinchero-Cusco International Airport, suggest that it would be able to accomodate Airbus A380 and Boeing 757 aircraft, both of which can seat hundreds of passengers.
The new airport's detractors say that sort of tourist volume is more than the region can handle sustainably, citing an already overwhelming number of arrivals to Cusco and other Sacred Valley towns. At Machu Picchu, arrivals have surged from 1.7 million in 2010 to 2.3 million in 2011, according to the Peruvian Ministry of Tourism. Officials already limit the number of visitors allowed into the Machu Picchu site to 3,500 people daily in order to satisfy UNESCO, which has designated the ruins a World Heritage Site.
But the problems with the new Chinchero airport don't end with the sheer number of arrivals, writes journalist Nicholas Asheshov. "The airport is not even needed, even if it were to be, in the words of Roger Valencia, Cusco’s top guide and thoughtful ecologist, 'properly managed.'" Asheshov wrote in an article in the Peruvian magazine Caretas. "But, again, as everyone here knows, it will be badly done. The quality of the regional and municipal administrations of Cusco and Urubamba, of which Chinchero is a district, is Third World incompetent with a well-entrenched tradition of corruption."
Asheshov and other locals in the tourism industry worry that making it easier for tourists to get here will only destroy the things they've come to see. "The Sacred Valley has become a conurbation of million-dollar maize fields among the hotels," Asheshov writes.
Others in the tourism industry wonder what the effect might be on Lima and its attractions, if passengers bypass the Peruvian capital in favor of a direct flight to Machu Picchu and its surrounding tourism bounty.
Peruvian news reports suggest the new airport could be open for business by 2017.