ALTA 2010: Aeromexico plans to launch Panama, resume Toronto

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Aeromexico is planning to launch service to Panama City, Toronto and possibly Vancouver early next year as the carrier continues to look at new network opportunities created by the suspension of services at Mexicana.

Aeromexico CEO Andres Conesa says Mexico City-Panama service will begin in February but the SkyTeam carrier has not yet decided on an exact launch date.

He says Aeromexico is also aiming to resume service to Toronto sometime in the first half of next year. "We have in the pipeline in the first half of the year Toronto and maybe Vancouver," Conesa told ATI and Flightglobal at the ALTA 2010 Leadership Forum in Panama.

Aeromexico launched service early last year from Mexico City to Toronto and Montreal, two Canadian destinations previously only served by Mexicana. But Aeromexico dropped both routes early this year, citing a lack of demand driven partly by new visa restrictions imposed by Canada on Mexicans. Aeromexico already announced plans earlier this month to resume service on the Mexico City-Montreal route with one Boeing 737 daily flight from 15 December.

According to Innovata, the Mexico City to Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver routes are currently only served by Air Canada. Prior to suspending operations Mexicana operated 10 weekly flights to Montreal, nine to Vancouver and seven to Toronto.

Air Canada was already operating two daily flights from Toronto to Mexico City before Mexicana suspended operations. Mexicana's exit prompted Air Canada to decide at the end of August to launch daily service to Mexico City from Montreal and Vancouver. Both these routes were launched earlier this month.

Mexicana was also the only Mexican carrier serving Panama City. But even before Mexicana's suspension Aeromexico was planning to start competing against Mexicana on this route. ATI first reported in June that Aeromexico was planning to launch Panama City by early 2011.

Mexicana ceasing operations, however, has prompted Panama's Copa Airlines to add capacity to Mexico. Copa CEO Pedro Heilbron says Copa added a third daily frequency to Mexico City in September and will begin a third daily flight to Cancun next month.

Heilbron says on the Mexico City route Copa is now using temporary traffic rights for the third frequency which were awarded for a six-month period due to Mexicana's exit. But he says "we expect this frequency to become permanent in the near future as there's a need for more capacity in the Mexican market".

Aeromexico has been focusing on expanding its Latin American network since Copa left SkyTeam late last year. Earlier this year Aeromexico launched service to Bogota, Havana and San Jose in Costa Rica. These were all Mexicana markets that Aeromexico decided to add before Mexicana's problems.

Conesa says Aeromexico would also be interested in potentially launching service to some of the US markets Mexicana was serving. But Aeromexico has to wait for Mexico to be upgraded to Category 1 status under the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) programme before it can add any new US destinations.