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H1N1 triggers large traffic declines in May for Mexican carriers

Mexican carriers saw their domestic and international passenger traffic collectively drop in May by 36% and 41% respectively as the H1N1 flu virus suppressed demand.

According to newly-released traffic data from the Mexican DGAC, there were only 1.6 million domestic passengers in May 2009. This represents a 22% drop compared to April 2009 and a 36% drop compared to May 2008.

The new data also shows Mexican carriers transported 358,000 passengers on international routes in May 2009, down 39% compared to April 2009 and 41% compared to May 2008.

The DGAC reports that foreign carriers transported 693,000 passengers on flights to and from Mexico in May 2009, a 57% drop compared to April 2009 and a 54% drop compared to May 2008. Foreign carriers, which cater more to the tourists rather than local market, were more affected by H1N1 as the flu prompted overseas tourists to cancel or postpone Mexican holidays.

Of the Mexican legacy carriers, Mexicana registered the biggest drop in traffic. The airline saw its domestic traffic drop 37% in May compared to the previous month to 129,000 passengers and its international traffic drop 42% compared to the previous month to 221,000 passengers.

Mexicana low-cost unit Click saw its domestic traffic drop 35% to 188,000 passengers while new regional unit Link reported a 9% increase in traffic to 15,000 passengers. Link launched services in March and continued to expand its Bombardier CRJ200 fleet despite the spread of H1N1.

Mexico's other major carrier, Aeromexico, saw its domestic traffic drop 14% month-over-month to 257,000 passengers and its international traffic drop 32% to 119,000 passengers. Its regional unit, Aeromexico Connect, reported only a 9% drop in traffic to 273,000 passengers.

Aviacsa, a legacy carrier that has since been grounded by the DGAC, reported a 29% drop in domestic traffic to 150,000 passengers. Aviacsa has not operated since the beginning of last week, but is now challenging the grounding order in court.

The grounding meanwhile has provided a badly needed boost to Mexico's remaining carriers as they fill the void left by Aviacsa, which in May had a 9% share of the domestic market. All of Mexico's carriers have been struggling over the last year due to the economic downturn and over-capacity in the market.

Even before H1N1 hit domestic traffic was down 11% compared to the same period in 2008. H1N1 led to a further decrease in year-over-year traffic and for the first five months of 2009 the domestic market has contracted 16% from 11.8 million to 9.9 million passengers.

Of Mexico's three low-cost carriers, VivaAerobus was the least impacted as the carrier operates primarily in the north of the country and has no flights into Mexico City, where the virus was centred. VivaAerobus' domestic traffic in May was down 10% compared to April to 97,000 passengers.

Mexico's largest low-cost carrier, Volaris, reported to the DGAC a 18% month-over-month drop in May to 231,000 passengers. Interjet, another low-cost carrier, reported a 40% drop in May compared to April to 170,000 passengers. While all the carriers adjusted capacity, Interjet cut back the most, which partly explains why it had a larger drop than all the other domestic operators.

ATI previously reported that Aeromexico reduced capacity in May by 12%, Mexicana by 15%, Volaris by 4%, Interjet by 30% and Aviacsa by 25%. In total the DGAC says there were 10% fewer scheduled domestic flights in Mexico in May compared to April. The number of international flights dropped 20%.

The new DGAC data also provides new colour on H1N1's effect on US carriers. Continental Airlines, the largest carrier in the US-Mexico market, reported to the DGAC a 51% drop in its Mexican traffic from 293,000 passengers to 144,000 passengers. The second largest carrier in the market, American Airlines, saw its traffic on Mexican routes drop 46% from 244,000 to 132,000. The American and Continental figures include both mainline and regional flying.

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