Volaris accelerates US launch plans, selects Fort Lauderdale

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Mexican low-cost carrier Volaris has selected Fort Lauderdale as its first US destination and has accelerated the launch of transborder services by about six months.

Volaris, which last November inked a codeshare deal with Southwest Airlines covering planned transborder services, today filed an application with the US DOT requesting permission to serve Fort Lauderdale from its base at Toluca Airport outside Mexico City. The carrier says it already received in December designation to serve this route from Mexican authorities.

"Volaris intends to commence scheduled services to the United States in the first half of 2009," the carrier tells the DOT. "Volaris requests prompt approval of this application so that final arrangements for its new service, including those for marketing and sale, can be made without delay."

This represents an acceleration of Volaris' US launch plans as the carrier's CEO, Enrique Beltranena, said in November it was planning to launch its first US service in the fourth quarter 2009. At the time he said Volaris was evaluating several potential US destinations and would make an initial selection with Southwest by the end of February.

Under the tie-up with Southwest, Volaris has said it will be the exclusive operator of Mexico-US services and would place Southwest's code on all its new transborder services. Southwest, in turn, would put the Volaris code on connecting domestic flights.

Southwest has a larger operation at Fort Lauderdale with services to over 20 destinations throughout the US. But it is unclear if Southwest and Volaris will be cleared to begin codeshare services in time for Volaris' Toluca-Fort Lauderdale launch.

Neither carrier has applied yet to the DOT for permission to codeshare and there is no mention of a Southwest codeshare in Volaris' filing with the DOT. In announcing the tie-up with Volaris last November, Southwest initially indicated it planned to start selling tickets on Volaris flights in the spring of 2009 but flights would not begin until 2010.

No carrier currently links Toluca with Fort Lauderdale but Aeromexico, American Airlines and Mexicana all link Mexico City with Miami. Toluca is about 70km from Mexico City and Fort Lauderdale is about 40km from Miami.

Volaris says it will operate 132-seat Airbus A319s and 174-seat Airbus A320s on the new Fort Lauderdale service. It currently operates 19 A319s and two A320s.

The carrier projects it will carry about 200,000 passengers on the route this year and over 400,000 passengers in 2010. It does not say how many flights per week it intends to operate on the new route.

Volaris, which carried about 3.3 million passengers last year, currently serves 21 domestic destinations. It is banking on transborder services driving most of its expansion over the next few years as it has said it aims to serve at least 10 US airports by 2015.