Mexico Destroys 92 Illegal Landing Strips So Far in 2013

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Almost a hundred illegal landing strips have been destroyed in Mexico so far this year, a continuation of the significant downward trend over the last six years.

Defense Ministry SEDENA announced that 92 landing strips had been decommissioned during the first six months of Enrique Peña Nieto’s presidency, reported El Informador.

Also dismantled were 60 laboratories for producing drugs. No details were given on the locations of the landing strips or the labs.

The number of destroyed landing strips dropped by more than half between 2007 and 2012 — from 880 to 344, according to SEDENA figures. However, the number of dismantled laboratories pointed to a different trend — 2012 saw 236 dismantled, the highest number of any year since 2007. A total of 876 were destroyed between 2007 to 2012. 

InSight Crime Analysis

The United States has given millions of dollars to Mexico to intercept drug flights under the Merida Initiative, and these efforts have had a major impact — as reflected in the decreasing number of landing strips being discovered. While previously, drug shipments typically arrived directly to the Mexican border by plane from Colombia, they now mostly arrive overland through Guatemala (however, drug flights from South America remain common in some Central American countries, including Honduras). Once drug shipments reach Mexico, they are much more likely to travel to the northern US border overland and by sea than plane, though some short flights are still used for the northward journey.

The clampdown on narco-airstrips in Mexico has forced smugglers to adapt. Planes have been modified to be able to take off on very short runways, or land on rocky terrain. Meanwhile, ultralight aircraft, which are hard to detect and can use runways less than 100 feet long, are now being increasingly used for very short flights across the US-Mexico border. According to the US, in 2011 the number of ultralight drug flights detected in the border region had doubled in a year. Last year, the Department of Homeland Security announced a $100 million contract for a detection system targeting such aircraft.

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