Mexico rings the changes

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Change is coming at a furious pace in Mexico with the grounding of one airline, liquidation of another and the growing focus of Mexicana and Aeromexico on foreign routes.

The secretary of transport and communications has grounded La Paz-based Aerocalifornia for 90 days, with an ultimatum to fix its maintenance and record-keeping problems or face the loss of its air operating certificate.

Aerocalifornia has been Mexico’s third or fourth largest airline for many years. With a network of 23 cities and 15% of the domestic market, it operated a fleet of 29 McDonnell Douglas DC-9s, some nearly 40 years old. Eleven were already grounded or cannibalised.

The grounding comes less than two weeks after a federal labour panel authorised an auction of assets owned by Aerolineas Internacionales. A Boeing 727 operator, Aerolineas was grounded three years ago over safety issues that have now led to its liquidation.

Both actions come as Mexico’s two leading airlines are focusing on international routes. Mexicana, already Mexico’s largest international airline, is shifting more capacity to foreign routes (see cover story page 28) and increasing its ties to the oneworld alliance. Since it left Star in 2004 Mexicana has formed extensive codeshare and strategic alliances with American Airlines and Iberia. Now it has signed a codeshare with Japan Airlines. Mexicana’s ongoing codeshare agreements with Star Alliance carriers may be nearing their end as Air Canada is one of the first to withdraw.

Aeromexico, following the arrival of two Boeing 777-200ERs, is also expanding internationally. With its privatisation pushed back to the third quarter, it hopes to boost overseas revenue, now around 35%, with new long-haul flights to Madrid, Nagoya, Paris and Santiago. Nagoya will be the first transpacific route flown by a Mexican airline.

The change of emphasis by Aeromexico and Mexicana, following a trend for similar reasons in the USA, has encouraged a new wave of low-fare airlines, which are beginning to make inroads into the domestic supremacy of the incumbent carriers. Among these are Mexicana’s own Click, Avolar, Azteca, Interjet, Mexus and Volaris. All but Azteca came into being in 2005. ■

DAVID KNIBB / SEATTLE