Public outcry is growing over the construction of an international airport that would ferry tourists even closer to Peru’s already fragile Machu Picchu historical site, including a petition launched by dozens of archaeologists, historians and conservationists.
Construction on the upcoming Chinchero Cuzco International Airport broke ground in January, roughly 36 miles southeast of the Inca ruins, after several years of back-and-forth plans as well as protests by locals.
Its completion would trim the distance tourists would have to travel on the ground, with the closest airport to the tourist attraction currently being the single runway Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport in Cuzco, roughly 46 miles away.
In addition to cutting travel time, the airport would feature multiple runways to accommodate more flights. It would also allow for direct flights from the U.S. and across Latin America. It’s slated for completion by 2023, according to the Centre for Aviation.
But amid excitement by government officials over the airport’s potential economic benefits, there have been concerns about its environmental impact as well as it substantially increasing tourists in an area that’s already overburdened each year with visitors. Efforts have already been made to control the number of tourists by reducing admission times at the historical site.
“An airport in the surroundings of the Sacred Valley will affect the integrity of a complex Inca landscape and will cause irreparable damage due to noise, traffic and uncontrolled urbanization,” a petition on Change.org against the airport’s creation reads. “We invoke the President and the government of Peru to reconsider this project.”
The petition is signed by dozens of historians, anthropologists, professors, architects and other cultural experts.
Cuzco-based anthropologist Pablo Del Valle, one of the petition’s many supporters, expressed his concern to The Guardian.
“It seems ironic and in a way contradictory that here, just 20 minutes from the Sacred Valley, the nucleus of the Inca culture, they want to build an airport ― right on top of exactly what the tourists have come here to see,” he said.
UNESCO, the United Nations-run organization that protects historical and natural sites around the world, has warned that the site may be placed on its list of world heritage sites in danger if more is not done.
It has encouraged increasing conservation efforts to Machu Picchu’s adjacent land, stating: “A considerable number of well-documented threats render the property vulnerable to losing its future integrity and will require permanent management attention.”
Peru’s finance minister, Carlos Oliva, has called the airport a necessity when faced with questions about its potential harm.
“This airport will be built as soon as possible because it’s very necessary for the city of Cusco,” he told journalists last month, according to The Guardian. “There’s a series of technical studies which support this airport’s construction.”