Mexicana Airlines gets new life from investors

February 11, 2011

The carrier declared bankruptcy and stopped flying last summer but recently announced it plans to resume some flights soon.

It plans to start service with seven planes and then increase to 40 jets by the second half of this year.

Internationally, the Airbus 320 planes will fly to San Antonio, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami and Havana as well as seven Mexican cities.

PC Capital’s group of Mexican investors raised money to allow the carrier to resume operations. By late January, it had recertified 38 pilots, 80 flight attendants and 846 maintenance workers.

Latin America airlines expert Pete Garcia said he thinks the airline selected the most profitable routes to restart service.

“They picked the lowest-hanging fruit,” said Garcia of Houston’s Pete Garcia International, a consulting firm. “Mexico is a good market to be in. There’s still a lot of opportunity there.”

Since the airline stopped flying, several U.S. and Mexican carriers have expanded service to Mexico and in some cases taken over some of Mexicana’s routes.

Competitors add routes

On Feb. 19, Continental Airlines will add weekly service from Cancun to San Antonio, Austin and Raleigh/Durham. Continental has also added service and increased the size of the planes its flies to other Mexican cities.

Dallas-based American Airlines and regional partner American Eagle started flying to Veracruz and Queretaro on Thursday. In the last few months, the two carriers also increased service to several Mexican cities from Dallas, Miami and Chicago.

“The exit of Mexicana allowed some opportunities that have been covered by various airlines,” said Jorge Goytortua, North American vice president of sales for Aeromexico.

Goytortua, who is based in the Houston office of Aeromexico, said he’s not worried about competition from U.S. airlines because Aeromexico competes by offering its passengers food and free alcoholic beverages during its flights at a time when many international carriers have cut back on such services.

Aeromexico also added flights to the U.S., but not until after Dec. 1, when the Federal Aviation Administration raised Mexico’s aviation safety rating to Category 1. The rating lowered in July after the agency found the nation didn’t have enough airplane inspectors, and that meant Mexico’s airlines couldn’t add service to the U.S. or partner with U.S. airlines.

Other Mexican carriers

Last year, Aeromexico added a third daily flight from Houston to Mexico City. It also started flying daily from San Antonio to Mexico instead of four times a week.

The additional flights came mostly as part of Aeromexico’s strategic plan to recover from 2009, when the U.S. economy slowed and Mexico’s travel sector suffered from the H1N1 virus, Goytortua said.

Last year, Aeromexico and its affiliated airlines transported 11.6 million passengers, 12 percent more than in 2009.

Low-cost Mexican carrier VivaAerobus also began flying twice weekly out of Bush Intercontinental Airport to Monterrey last summer.

By JENALIA MORENO Copyright 2011 Houston Chronicle

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