Construction of Mexico City’s proposed new international airport is already well underway, but an upcoming voter referendum could bring the project to a halt.

The Economist has reported that Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the newly elected president of Mexico (and a former mayor of Mexico City), backs a referendum running October 25-28 on the fate of the multibillion dollar airport, dubbed NAICM.

The project is currently about 30 per cent complete. It would replace the Mexican capital’s existing airport, which is already operating well above capacity, with no room for expansion.

López Obrador says the results of the referendum will be binding, but observers have questioned the fairness of the process, charging that it is set up to favour López Obrador and other airport opponents.

The new airport, if completed, would serve an estimated 120 million passengers annually. For international travellers, the $15 billion project makes a lot of sense. But many average Mexicans — two thirds of whom have never been on a plane — see the project as an expensive, over-budget facility for the rich.

Instead, López Obrador has proposed redeveloping and expanding the Santa Luchia military base to ease capacity issues at the city’s existing airport.