Peru’s government promised on Thursday to protect the Machu Picchu sanctuary and other Inca ruins when building a new airport to serve the ancient civilization’s capital of Cusco.
Machu Picchu and the Inca road system are UNESCO World Heritage sites, and the UN agency has previously expressed concerns over the proposed airport at Chinchero, less than 60 kilometers from the Inca sanctuary that was built in the 15th century.
“We have made a commitment that before work begins on constructing the Chinchero airport, in June of this year, we will present the heritage impact study that UNESCO demands,” Transport Minister Edmer Trujillo, who is responsible for the project, told journalists.
UNESCO has told Peru that even though the airport will be built outside of the archeological areas, it is necessary to study how a potential increase in tourists would affect them.
The new airport will be able to receive six million passengers per year — 60 percent more than the current Cusco airport, which has a capacity for 3,000 passengers a day but receives 5,000.
The existing airport cannot grow because it is inside Cusco, a major Andean city in southeast Peru.
Machu Picchu — the most iconic site from the Inca empire that ruled a large swathe of western South America for 100 years before the Spanish conquest in the 16th century — is Peru’s most popular tourist attraction, located about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Cusco.
Trujillo said construction of the new airport would be constantly monitored by culture ministry experts in case archeological ruins are found.
The airport will be built at 3,780 meters above sea level in the old Inca Sacred Valley.
Many have criticized the impact it could have not only on the country’s national treasures but on rural communities.
“Building an airport in the Sacred Valley will have irreparable effects in terms of noise, increase in traffic and uncontrolled urbanization,” historian Natalia Majluf said in August.
But local Cusco authorities say it will bring in vital tourism revenue, which the region depends on.