Mexico’s new army-run airline promises cheap tickets and new routes

Mexico’s new army-run airline promises cheap tickets and new routes

Mexico’s new army-run airline took to the skies this week with its first commercial flight.

With some delay due to bad weather, Mexicana's inaugural flight landed on Tuesday in the tourist resort of Tulum on Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, flying from Mexico City.

The airline’s operations will include domestic flights between different Mexican cities. The company is not new: it is actually the heir to the former Compañía Mexicana de Aviación, founded in 1921, which ceased operations due to financial problems in 2010 after being privatised.

What is new is that the airline is now managed directly by the country's armed forces.

Why has Mexico launched an army-run airline?

Mexicana is the latest to join the growing list of services run by the Mexican military.

It is a decision by president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has entrusted the military with the management of numerous airports, hotels, trains, the country’s customs service and even tourist parks.

General Luís Cresencio Sandoval, Mexico’s defence secretary, said that having all those diverse businesses run by the military was “common in developed countries”.

However, according to news agency AP, only a few countries such as Cuba, Sri Lanka, Argentina and Colombia have military-run airlines. They are mostly small carriers with a handful of prop planes that operate mainly on under-served or remote domestic routes.

Mexicana will offer affordable flights to tourist areas

That is not the case for Mexicana, which will compete with commercial airlines in domestic flights to popular destinations like Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Los Cabos, Zihuatanejo, Acapulco and Mazatlan.

It also expects to fly to 16 small regional airports that currently have few or no flights.

The airline hopes to compete mainly on price: the first 425 tickets sold cost about $92 (€83) for the Mexico City to Tulum flight, which the government says is about one-third cheaper than other companies.

Flights will be scheduled every three or four days, mainly on weekends. The army, which has no experience running commercial flights, has created a subsidiary to be in charge of Mexicana.

The defence secretary said the airline began operations with three Boeing jets and two smaller leased Embraer planes, and hopes to lease or acquire five more jets in early 2024.

Mexicana continues militarisation of public services and tourism

López Obrador called the take-off of Mexicana's first Boeing 737-800 jet “a historic event” and a “new stage”.

Since taking office in 2018, the Mexican president has harshly criticised the privatisations of state-owned companies carried out by previous governments.

The president is known for his nostalgia for the past, when the state ran major oil, energy, airline and telecommunications companies.

Many of these services were known to be inefficient and often corrupt, due to political control. López Obrador has found the solution to this problem in the military. According to him, the armed forces are the most incorruptible and patriotic arm of government.

On the tourism side, Mexicana is expected to complement the services offered by the Maya Train, the controversial railway line being built on the Yucatán peninsula.

Once again, it is the military that is building part of the infrastructure. And they will manage it.