Mexico's Volaris is seeking additional slots at Mexico City as it looks to further expand its domestic operation and fill the void left by capacity cuts at bankrupt flag carrier Mexicana.

Volaris chief commercial officer Holger Blankenstein tells Flightglobal the low-cost carrier has "filed a complaint with the Federal Competition Commission regarding the unfair administration of slots at the Mexico City International Airport".

Volaris, which is based at Mexico City alternative airport Toluca, gained access to Mexico City International earlier this year as part of a government policy shift which opened the downtown airport to new entrants. But so far Volaris has only been able to secure two pairs of slots at undesirable late night and early morning hours.

The first pair of slots was used to launch service from Mexico City to Tijuana in March. The second pair will be used to launch on 1 September service from Mexico City to Mexicali.

"We applied for slots to serve additional routes from Mexico City and were granted night or early morning slots, which work for our Mexicali market," Blankenstein says.

So far Volaris has been unable to secure slots during the day, which would be needed for shorter domestic routes. Low-cost carrier VivaAerobus, which launched services to Mexico City in late April and now operates two daily flights to the airport, has made similar complaints about being unable to secure the slots it originally sought.

There are plenty of unused slots at Mexico City, including the entire allotment from defunct carrier Aviacsa, which so far the government-owned airport operator has refused to redistribute. Aviacsa ceased operations last year and the recent capacity cuts by Mexicana have further increased the pool of unused slots.

"The most important way to fill the void that Mexicana could potentially leave is to receive a fairer treatment regarding slots at the international airport of Mexico," Blankenstein says.

Mexicana filed for bankruptcy early this month and is now attempting to restructure under new ownership. Blankenstein says "since the Mexicana situation started, we have seen an uptick in loads both internationally and domestically". As Volaris is unable to fill the void left by Mexicana on US routes due to the recent downgrading of Mexico to category 2 under the US FAA's international aviation safety assessment (IASA) programme, the carrier is looking at domestic expansion in Mexico City and elsewhere.

"We will try to fill the void that Mexicana leaves in the domestic market. We are focussing on our core markets Tijuana, Guadalajara and Mexico Metropolitan Area, in that order," Blankenstein says.

In the Mexico City area he adds Volaris' "home airport" will remain Toluca but the carrier is also interested in further expansion at Mexico City International.

Volaris' domestic expansion is made possible by six additional aircraft, including two Airbus A319s which will be placed into service next month and another four A319s which will be delivered in 2011. Volaris was originally planning to use some of this additional capacity to expand its US network - which now consists of Los Angeles, Oakland and San Jose in California. But this is no longer an option due to category 2, which prohibits any Mexican carrier from adding any capacity on US routes until category 1 status is regained.

"Next year, we have four aircraft entering as part of our purchase order. We have not committed them to a specific route or market yet. With Category 2 restrictions in USA probably still in place at that time, we are also looking at domestic capacity expansion," Blankenstein explains.

The two additional aircraft being placed into service next month will be used in part to support the new Mexico City-Mexicali route and another previously announced new daily flight connecting Tijuana with Cuernavaca from 1 October. Blankenstein says Volaris will also use the additional capacity to boost frequencies on its routes from Guadalajara to Cancun, Tijuana and Mexicali.

The two additional A319s, which are being leased from CIT, give the carrier a fleet of 21 A319s and two A320s with an average age of only 3.2 years. One of these aircraft, XA-VOP, was delivered earlier this month and the second aircraft is scheduled to be delivered by the end of this month.

Blankenstein says Volaris has so far been unable to add capacity to meet all the demand created by the Mexicana situation because during the high season the carrier is already averaging 14 hours per day of utilisation per aircraft. But he says "in low season we will react by adding capacity by increasing utilisation".

Opening new routes to Central America and the Caribbean, markets Mexicana serves and Volaris has previously studied, would also be an alternative. But Blankenstein says "there are no immediate plans to expand southward".

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news