VivaAerobus plans US expansion

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Mexico's VivaAerobus is planning to add capacity on its two US routes and is looking at opening new US gateways in 2011 now that Mexico has regained a category one safety rating from the FAA.

VivaAerobus commercial director Roberto Valdez tells ATI and Flightglobal the carrier plans to increase in February or March its Monterrey-Las Vegas service from two to four weekly flights. He says also in February or March VivaAerobus aims to increase its Monterrey-Houston service from two "to at least four and maybe five weekly flights".

VivaAerobus began serving Houston in March with two weekly frequencies. Valdez says the service performed well from the start but the carrier has until now been unable to add capacity on the route due to category two restrictions.

The FAA in July downgraded Mexico to category two, under which foreign carriers cannot add capacity to the US. The category one rating was restored earlier this week and two other Mexican carriers - Aeromexico and Volaris - have already responded by announcing additional flights to the US.

VivaAerobus began serving Las Vegas in July 2010. It started with two weekly flights from its Monterrey hub and Valdez says demand has now reached a point where four flights can be supported.

VivaAerobus, which only operates 148-seat Boeing 737-300s, added a twice weekly Hermosillo-Las Vegas service in March of this year but dropped it in August. "It didn't work for our size of airplane," Valdez says.

He says VivaAerobus plan to focus in the future on adding US destinations from its Monterrey hub rather than from smaller Mexican cities such as Hermosillo. Valdez says the carrier is currently looking at several potential US markets from Monterrey including Dallas, San Antonio and Los Angeles. He says Austin, which was VivaAerobus' first US market but was dropped in May 2009, is not currently under consideration.

Valdez says the evaluation of potential new US destinations was already underway despite category two but the carrier is now doing the evaluation more quickly because of Mexico's return this week to category one status.

While VivaAerobus expects to add at least one US gateway in 2011, the carrier's main focus will continue to be domestic expansion. VivaAerobus is now focusing most of its domestic expansion on Mexico City and to a lesser extent Guadalajara while US expansion will be focused on Monterrey, which is already the carrier's largest domestic base.

Valdez says VivaAerobus is not currently interested in Guadalajara-US flights because transborder routes from Guadalajara are longer than from Monterrey. "That doesn't go with out model. We look for shorter flights," he says, adding VivaAerobus wants to stick to routes of 3.5hr or less.