After more than two years of Mexican incompetence, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has finally returned Mexico’s safety rating to Category 1 status. This move means that big changes should be coming since the market was suspended in time for far too long.
When the safety rating was lowered to Category 2, that caused a whole host of issues for airlines. Most notably and importantly, Mexican airlines were not allowed to grow in the US. They couldn’t add new routes if they already had any, and new airlines couldn’t start any service to the US at all. It was like everything froze in May 2021 and only what existed at that point could continue to operate.
You can see that in the numbers which I pulled from Cirium. Let’s start with a look at total departures for the big three Mexican airlines over the last decade (plus Interjet which no longer exists but was big for awhile).
System Departures by Mexican Airline
Overall, you see that Aeromexico had been shrinking even before the pandemic, and it has barely gotten back to the level it was at in already-reduced 2019. But it has grown steadily from the depths of the pandemic. Volaris, meanwhile, now has about the same number of departures as Aeromexico. It has grown like a weed. And Viva has turned on the jets as well. In fact, post-pandemic, both Volaris and Viva have really increased their growth rates compared to beforehand. The opportunities are everywhere.
Moving on from the total systems, let’s take a look at the number of US departures by Mexican airline. It’s a very different story.
US Departures by Mexican Airline
Aeromexico looks fairly similar to its system numbers, but Aeromexico is the most boring airline here. Look at Volaris. It was growing rapidly in the US, doubling departures between 2015 and 2019. By late 2020, it was already reaching new records. And then, it stopped. Viva was even more dramatic. It really turned on the US in early 2021, but then it moderated and flattened out quickly.
The magic date here is May 2021. That’s when you can see the schedules all but froze. The low-cost operators still had plenty of growth in them. They just had to grow away from the US.
Wait, that’s not entirely true. Volaris still found a way to grow. It just upgauged its aircraft on US routes. Take a look.
Volaris Seats per Departure From the US
Volaris went from having less than 150 seats per departure back in 2012 to somewhere in the 175 range by the time the pandemic hit. Now it’s above 200. That’s one way to grow, and it has worked. But it has also prevented Volaris from growing into new markets, of which there are plenty on the airline’s radar.
The thing is, for both Volaris and Viva, there are no real issues finding places to put airplanes. This just creates more opportunity for them, and it will mean more options for US-México travelers. For Viva, this does mean that if the US government ever gets around to approving the Allegiant/Viva Aerobus proposed joint venture, they would actually be able to implement it. The problem is that the US isn’t even willing to evaluate this until other disputes are settled. So, Viva will keep waiting.
And speaking of joint ventures, this is huge news for Aeromexico. Since the downgrade to Category 2, Delta has not been able to put its code on Aeromexico flights and sell them. Delta and Aeromexico, remember, have a joint venture between the US and México, so this is fairly important. Delta being able to sell Aeromexico flights will be a big shot in the arm for the only full-service carrier in México, and one that has struggled far more than others.
Lastly, this is great news for Mexicana. When that airline comes back, it will be able to connect Felipe Angeles with a whole host of cities in the US where people also do not want to travel. I’m thinking San Bernardino (CA), Belleville (IL), and Islip (NY) should all be at the top of the list. It’s bound to attract tens of travelers.
Mexicana may be a joke (in so many ways), but the rest of this is real. This is very important for all three of the big Mexican carriers, and it should mean more options for Americans looking to travel over the border. It also indicates that México is actually capable of getting its act together, at least in some areas. I’d love to think this bodes well for other aviation issues in México, but I know better than to hold my breath.