Mexican low-cost carrier VivaAerobus is eyeing Houston as its next US gateway.

VivaAerobus has applied for US Department of Transportation (DOT) approval to operate a daily service to Houston from its Monterrey base. The carrier told the DOT it aims to launch the new route on 1 June, but a VivaAerobus spokeswoman tells ATI the carrier has not yet finalised a decision to go forward with the service as it is still in negotiations with Houston Airport System.

"So far nothing concrete is known," she says. "We are still in talks with the airport. We hope though to get a favourable answer."

VivaAerobus already secured authorisation on 24 March from Mexican authorities to operate the Monterrey-Houston route.

If it goes ahead with the proposed route, VivaAerobus would compete against Houston-based Continental Airlines. According to Innovata, Continental is currently the only carrier offering non-stop service between Houston and Monterrey, with six daily flights using 37-seat Embraer ERJ-135s operated by its regional partner ExpressJet.

VivaAerobus currently operates a fleet of 11 Boeing 737-300s. The spokeswoman says the carrier added three 737-300s in the first quarter of this year, which are being used to launch new routes and add frequencies to existing services.

Some of these additional flights have already been introduced and the others will be introduced over the next few weeks. As previously reported by ATI, VivaAerobus will launch service this month to five new domestic destinations - Ciudad Obregon, Mexicali, Los Mochis, Morelia and Mexico City.

Mexico City will be served once per day from both Monterrey and later Guadalajara while the other four cities will be served twice per week from Monterrey. VivaAerobus was initially looking to serve both the Mexico City-Monterrey and Mexico City-Guadalajara markets with three daily flights but the spokeswoman says it was unable to secure enough slots for more than one frequency.

"The airport at Mexico City is a very busy one, so we had to adjust to the slots which were available," she says.

She adds the carrier may try to apply for additional slots later but "for now we'll see how it works".

While VivaAerobus has never flown to Houston it is familiar with the market. During the time the carrier served nearby Austin it offered a bus connection to San Antonio and Houston. The spokeswoman says roughly half of its Austin passengers used this bus service.

VivaAerobus ended Monterrey-Austin service in early 2009 and pulled out of Austin completely in May 2009, when it dropped service from Cancun and Puerto Vallarta. Austin was VivaAerobus' first US gateway, but in July 2009 the carrier launched service to Las Vegas, which it now serves from Monterrey and Hermosillo. Las Vegas is currently VivAerobus' only international destination.

The carrier's Las Vegas routes, as well as Monterrey-Houston and Monterrey-Austin cater more to ethnic traffic, while the Austin-Puerto Vallarta and Austin-Cancun services VivaAerobus tried to target the US leisure market.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news