Grupo Aeromexico is looking at acquiring several additional aircraft and using its charter subsidiary to operate scheduled routes as part of an effort to fill the void left by grounded archrival Grupo Mexicana.

Aeromexico's pilots union, ASPA, says the carrier earlier this week proposed expanding its fleet of Boeing 737s, 767s and 777s in exchange for concessions. An ASPA spokesman says it rejected the proposal because the concessions, which included working longer hours for the same salary and authorising expansion at charter unit Aeromexico Travel, were unreasonable. But he says ASPA continues to talk to Aeromexico and is interested in forging a new agreement and expanding the carrier's fleet.

An Aeromexico spokesman declined to comment on the proposal.

ASPA says Aeromexico currently operates a mainline fleet of 43 aircraft consisting of four 767s, four 777s and 35 737-700/800s. The ASPA spokesman says the carrier is interested in adding at least four to six 737s, two to three 767s and one 777.

The additional 767s and 777s could be used to add capacity on Aeromexico's Madrid, Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo routes, all of which were also served by Mexicana. Grupo Mexicana suspended all operations on 28 August. Although Mexicana may be re-launched later this year it is unlikely Mexicana's long-haul operation, which used 767s and Airbus A330s, will resume in the foreseeable future.

The additional 737-700/800s could be used domestically and to expand Aeromexico's Latin American network, which the carrier has been focussing on in recent months. Aeromexico is currently unable to add capacity on US routes, where Mexicana had a very large presence, because Mexico currently falls under category 2 of the FAA's international aviation safety assessment programme.

Aeromexico is also interested in adding several used or new 737-700/800s for Aeromexico Travel, which currently operates three Boeing MD-80s. Grupo Aeromexico told ASPA this week it would like to start using Aeromexico Travel in the scheduled domestic market, a market with significant expansion opportunities given Grupo Mexicana's 29% share is now up for grabs. But the spokesman says the union, which objected to the launch of Aeromexico Travel in 2008, is vehemently against the idea of using the lower-cost Travel unit on scheduled routes and prefers mainline domestic expansion to fill the void left by Mexicana.

"Travel started as a charter company and now they want to make that low-cost scheduled with MD-80s and 737s," he says. "We don't want this."

The ASPA spokesman says Aeromexico pilots are willing "to make some concessions" but are not willing to reduce their salaries or overtime pay. He says Aeromexico is now proposing pilots work more hours without earning overtime.

Aeromexico pilots are now paid an hourly rate and receive a higher hourly rate for overtime, which kicks in after 75 hours per month. The current contract, which expires in October 2011, allows pilots to work up to 85 hours, including 10 hours of overtime, although Mexican regulations allow pilots to work up to 90 hours per month.

The spokesman explains Aeromexico would like pilots to work 85 or 90 hours but at the same pay they now receive for 75 hours. He says the union will consider raising the contracted maximum to 90 hours but only if pilots are paid overtime for over 75 hours.

Aeromexico pilots have not been working any overtime in recent months due to capacity cuts that were implemented last year, but that is about to change as the carrier this week started adding flights by increasing aircraft utilisation. The ASPA spokesman says last year's capacity cuts also forced 26 pilots to be demoted from mainline to the Aeromexico Connect subsidiary. Currently there are 830 pilots at mainline and 454 pilots at Connect.

Aeromexico in recent years has been steadily shrinking its mainline fleet and growing Connect, which it sees as a more economical platform for domestic flying. Through the first six months of this year, Aeromexico Connect carried 2.1 million domestic passengers while Aeromexico mainline carried 1.7 million passengers.

On international routes, Aeromexico mainline carried 900,000 passengers and Connect carried 100,000. Aeromexico Travel carried 41,000 international passengers and 16,000 domestic passengers on non-scheduled routes during the first half of 2010.

The ASPA spokesman says Aeromexico's current pilot contract, which was forged in 2008, specifies a minimum of 60 aircraft. ASPA has challenged Aeromexico's failure to meet this requirement after removing 17 aircraft in 2008 and 2009, leaving it with a mainline fleet of only 43 aircraft. ASPA hopes the mainline fleet can now be expanded back to at least the 60 aircraft figure.

Grupo Aeromexico CEO Andres Conesa told Flightglobal in June that the group would not grow its mainline fleet unless the mainline pilots agreed to lower their costs. He said the 737-700s Aeromexico has on outstanding order - the first of which is currently not slated to be delivered until late 2011 - would likely be used to replace the MD-80s at Aeromexico Travel. He said the 737s on order would only go to mainline "if we can get better conditions from the pilot's union".

Conesa also said at the time that Aeromexico was looking at expanding the Embraer E-190 fleet at Connect beyond its current commitment for 16 aircraft. Connect currently operates seven E-190s and 38 Embraer ERJ-145s, according to Flightglobal's ACAS database.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news