Volaris to join VivaAerobus in launching service to Mexico City

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Mexico's Volaris is preparing to take advantage of a new government policy authorising the low-cost carrier to launch services to previously restricted Mexico City International Airport.

Volaris marketing director Jose Calderoni says the carrier is now working with local authorities to secure slots and approvals to link Mexico City with Tijuana. "We're now in the process of reviewing times and going through all the processes," Calderoni says.

He says Volaris has not yet set a launch date or decided on how many frequencies to initially operate but adds the carrier expects to begin the route "in the next couple of months". He also points out Volaris typically begins new routes with only one daily frequency as the carrier caters more to the leisure rather than business sector.

Launching service to Mexico City International seems to signal a strategy shift for Volaris as the carrier, which is based at Mexico City's alternative airport Toluca, has always indicated it has no interest in the more congested airport in the capital's centre.

But Calderoni points out that Volaris views Mexico City International as a destination for its Tijuana passengers and plans to continue to have its operations centre at Toluca.

"We're looking at it as just another airport," Cadleroni tells ATI and Flightglobal sister publication Airline Business Magazine. "The focus is still on Toluca. We're not moving from Toluca to Mexico City. We're just considering operating a route at Mexico City. This is just another station for us."

Calderoni adds the route will be served with crews and aircraft from its Tijuana base. Volaris already serves 13 destinations from Tijuana, which makes Tijuana a larger base than its Toluca and Guadalajara bases.

Of Volaris' three bases Tijuana has been by far the fastest growing over the last 18 months as Volaris has added routes to fill the void of now defunct Baja California-based carriers AeroCalifornia and Avolar. Volaris is now the biggest carrier in Tijuana, where it is able to attract a large number of passengers who live in Southern California and cross the border to take a Volaris domestic flight.

"This is about our Tijuana strategy," Calderoni says. "This strengthens our position in Tijuana. Our Tijuana customers are asking for this. We're very dominant in Tijuana."

VivaAerobus provided a similar rationale earlier this week when explaining to ATI its decision to launch services to Mexico City International. The low-cost carrier plans to announce a launch date and schedule next week for its planned routes to Mexico City from its Monterrey and Guadalajara bases. VivaAerobus, which currently does not serve Mexico City or Toluca, has traditionally stuck to niche routes in northern Mexico where competition is limited.

Calderoni says Volaris is not interested in joining VivaAerobus on the Monterrey-Mexico City and Guadalajara-Mexico City routes because these routes now have more capacity than any other Mexican domestic routes. "We don't have enough aircraft to get into that," Calderoni adds, pointing out that to be competitive on such trunk routes airlines need to offer multiple frequencies per day.

Volaris operates 21 Airbus A320 family aircraft with two more aircraft scheduled for delivery later this year. But the carrier is now focused on expanding its new US operation rather than its domestic offering.

Historically only legacy carriers have had access to Mexico City International, although Interjet was able to gain access in 2008 by acquiring slots from AeroCalifornia in a controversial transaction which was challenged by some of Mexico's legacy carriers. The Mexican government in December 2009 issued a new policy opening up the airport, which now has plenty of unused slots due to capacity cuts over the last year.

Interjet CEO Jose Luis Garza tells ATI the new policy will not only allow Volaris and VivaAerobus access to Mexico City, but also Interjet and potentially other carriers. Garza says about 65% of Interjet's operation is now at Mexico City, where it now has about 100 flights per day, although Interjet's headquarters and maintenance base are at Toluca.

He says Interjet has not had a problem securing slots at Mexico City in addition to those acquired from AeroCalifornia except for slots during the peak morning and evening rush. Slots during these peak periods could eventually become available once there is a final outcome on the status of Aviacsa, which was the third largest slot holder at Mexico City.

Aviacsa has been grounded since July and it is considered highly unlikely the carrier will resume operations. But its slots cannot be reallocated until there is a legal outcome, a process which could take several months or even years.

Garza applauds the new policy opening up Mexico City International, saying "we've always believed in competition" and thought the barriers blocking access were unfair. Interjet now serves Tijuana, Monterrey and Guadalajara from Mexico City but Garza does not expect the new competition from VivaAerobus and Volaris at Mexico City to have much of an effect.

"They're aiming at a different market. We don't believe there will be an impact," Garza says.