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Air Traffic

MAJOR AIRPORTS Mexico’s airport infrastructure is considered the most advanced in Latin America. There are more than 1,800 airports in the country, ranking it third in the world in terms […]


Mexico’s airport infrastructure is considered the most advanced in Latin America. There are more than 1,800 airports in the country, ranking it third in the world in terms of numbers, with all cities with populations over 500,000 having an airport. Mexico’s seven largest airports take up about 90% of the air traffic and are located in Mexico City, Cancún, Guadalajara, Monterrey, Tijuana, Acapulco, and Puerto Vallarta. With a capacity to handle over 30 million passengers a year, Mexico City’s Benito Juárez International Airport is easily the country’s busiest.

Juárez International is also the busiest in Latin America in terms of aircraft movements, and ranks third in Latin America in terms of passenger traffic. Despite the challenge of being a hot and high airport, 30 domestic and international airlines serve Juárez International and offer non-stop flights to more than 100 destinations around the globe. As the main hub for Mexico’s largest airline, Aeroméxico, and a secondary hub for its subsidiary, Aeroméxico Connect, the airport is also a SkyTeam hub, as well as a base for Aeromar, Interjet, and Volaris. It handles direct flights from Mexico City across the Americas, the Caribbean, and to Europe and Asia. The airport’s 2007 expansions allowed an operational capacity increase of 15%, with the government expecting passenger numbers to increase 16% each year following. In 2012, the airport saw 29.5 million passengers, a nearly 12% increase over 2011, and expects to surpass the 30 million mark in 2013.

In order to provide better connectivity and decentralize air traffic in the country, Mexico has recently embarked on a mission to reach more open skies agreements with foreign countries, while its airlines engage in codesharing alliances with foreign carriers. These agreements are helping establish new direct routes between Mexico and other countries worldwide, allowing easier access to and from the country for travelers and businesses alike. With these agreements, smaller airports (and smaller carriers) should also see an increase in passenger numbers, as more carriers may now fly to more destinations.

Cancún International Airport is one such airport that has benefited from the market’s liberalization, and now bests even Juárez International in terms of international passenger movement in Mexico. Along with its domestic routes, Cancún services several non-stop flights to Europe and the Americas, having moved over 14 million passengers in 2012, up 12% from 2011. The airport should see its numbers start to take off after the completion of the Terminal 2 expansion in 2013, with the expansion of Terminal 3 to begin shortly after.


Aeroméxico is Mexico’s flag carrier and services both domestic and international flights. Based in Mexico City, it operates through secondary hubs in Monterrey, Guadalajara, and Hermosillo. In combination with its regional subsidiary, Aeroméxico Connect, the Aeroméxico Group commands nearly 80% of the international market, and also dominates the domestic market with a 41.7% share. The Aeroméxico Group operates over 550 flights daily to 78 destinations across the globe with a fleet of 116 aircraft. In July 2012, it was announced that Aeroméxico would be the first Mexican carrier to deploy Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners. The investment for its new fleet is priced at $11 billion, which also includes 90 Boeing 737-8 MAXs to be delivered in 2018.

Aeroméxico has also started to expand its network to gain more worldwide presence and reach more passengers. In 1994, Aeroméxico and US-based carrier Delta entered into a commercial alliance to improve connectivity in both countries. In combination, the two airlines cover virtually all of the major cities in the two nations and, as the two countries’ economies pick up, so too will flight routes and air traffic. Capitalizing on a noted improvement in the automobile sector, in 2Q2013 Delta and Aeroméxico increased the number of flights going between Mexico City and Detroit to better serve the industry by facilitating connectivity between the cities. Currently, Aeroméxico is also the only Mexican carrier to fly non-stop to Asia, with multiple flights weekly to Tokyo and Shanghai. The company now flies to 32 international destinations in addition to its ever-expanding domestic network.

The aviation industry in Mexico has grown rapidly since Mexico’s first airline, the now-defunct Compañí­a Mexicana de Aviación (Mexicana), began operations in 1923. Aside from Aeroméxico, there are now over 70 domestic airline companies within the country. Some of the bigger players in the low-cost industry include Volaris, Interjet, VivaAerobus, Aviacsa, and Republicair. Several of these budget airlines began popping up in Mexico in the mid-2000s, offering more affordable flights to cities around the country. By 2010, these carriers and their competitively priced tickets had already seized a 21% market share, leaving industry pioneer Mexicana struggling to compete. This, in combination with the badly-hit tourism industry, eventually forced Mexicana to file for bankruptcy, allowing the low-cost carriers to solidify their place in the market. These new airlines were quick to pick up routes left in the wake of Mexicana’s 2010 collapse, and now Volaris and Interjet each operate close to 30 domestic destinations, giving them a country-wide reach.

Together with Aeroméxico, these airlines are helping revive Mexico’s tourism and transportation sector, demonstrating the strength of the country’s burgeoning economy and the resilience of Mexico as a destination for business as well as tourism. As the country’s second largest airline, Volaris is a leading competitor in Mexico’s domestic market, with a 13%-14% market share. Volaris is competitive in the international travel market as well, after taking over several of Mexicana’s routes. In 2009, Volaris began penetrating the US market through a codeshare alliance with Southwest and, though that agreement came to an end in early 2013, Volaris still flies to several US cities. Volaris is also looking to add more flights to Germany soon through its codeshare with Condor Flugdienst. Interjet is another big low-cost airliner, operating a network of 33 destinations accessed from its hubs in Mexico City and Toluca. Also reaching several US and Mexican cities is budget airline VivaAerobus, which is part owned by the founders of Ryanair in Europe. These, and other Mexican carriers, are all privately owned, with Aeroméxico having been privatized in the late-1980s.


With the addition of new open-sky agreements, more foreign airlines could enter the country, threatening Aeroméxico’s dominance of the Mexican market. But as of now, the company still retains a firm grip on the sector. Dispelling fears of opening up the Mexican market too much, Secretary of Communications and Transport Dionisio Pérez-Jácome says, “We are not talking about offering fifth freedoms or internal cabotage, but are looking to have greater connectivity by increasing flights, destinations, and frequencies to various tourist destinations.” He has also noted that, while still below the levels reached in 2008, passenger numbers are again increasing in the country.

Smaller airlines have picked up most of Mexicana’s old routes, and have done so at much more competitive rates. Though Mexicana still hopes to take to the skies again one day, its business model will have to undergo significant changes in order to keep up with the new, more dynamic marketplace. For consumers, more competition in the market means lower fares, and more destinations to choose from. This benefits not only leisure travelers, but business ones as well. As more new routes open up, vacationers and businesspeople alike will find it easier to access more destinations. With passenger numbers picking up again, the tourism and aviation sectors in Mexico seem to have overcome the turbulence and are helping contribute to the growth of the Mexican economy.