MCALLEN, RGV – The partnership between Aeromar and McAllen is getting stronger, with a top executive from the airline recently meeting with city leaders and the local chamber of commerce getting ready to announce a special summer discount on fares to Mexico City.
McAllen Chamber of Commerce will be giving away 100 Aeromar tickets on a first come, first serve basis. The tickets will allow passengers to fly from McAllen to Mexico City for a roundtrip price of $250. Normally the prices are around $280 to $320 for a roundtrip.
Liz Suarez, director of McAllen International Airport spoke a little bit about the summer promotion at a recent U.S. Small Business Administration-Rio Grande Valley Partnership luncheon in McAllen. Jeremy Santoscoy, deputy director of McAllen International Airport, spoke a little bit about the promotion at a recent McAllen Economic Development Corporation meeting.
“Take advantage of this, it is a great promotion to get to know Aeromar and flights to Mexico City,” Santoscoy said.
The Aeromar executive to visit McAllen was Fabricio Cojuc, executive director for network strategy and alliances. While in town, Cojuc gave the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM an in-depth interview about the history and market strategy of Aeromar.
“Our first interaction with the City of McAllen was in 2012 and we began flying McAllen to Mexico City in March, 2013,” Cojuc said.
“We found McAllen to be an underserved, high potential market for Mexico. There is a big community of interest between Mexico and the Rio Grande Valley. Our business model and the type of aircraft we fly is ideally suited to serve this type of market. Not so dense, in terms of air traffic. Not much competition, mostly indirect, namely Reynosa, just across the border.”
Asked about competition from Reynosa Airport, Cojuc said:
“A flight from Reynosa to Mexico City is about $150 round trip. But, you need to understand what the value of time is for the customer and the value of safety. Some people do not care if they spend five more hours if they are going to save $100. But, if you want to maximize your time and your safety, then probably it is better to spend the extra hundred bucks and fly out of McAllen.
“There is a market for everyone. That is the beauty of this industry, it is very well segmented. We understand what our market is and who our customer is and isn’t. We cater our service for our market. We do not want to be one thing to one customer and another thing to another customer. We want to be true to our business model. I think that is why we have been in business for 32 years. We understand those dynamics.”
Cojuc pointed out that Aeromar is McAllen’s only international airline and McAllen is the airline’s only international destination.
“We have 17 domestic cities and one international city, which is McAllen. In many ways we feel it is not international, though. In many ways we feel McAllen is part of Mexico because of the cultural affinity and the proximity.”
Cojuc noted that some of Aeromar’s destination cities in Mexico are further away from the airline’s hub in Mexico City than McAllen. “Not a lot of people know this but McAllen is the closest international airport to Mexico City in the whole of the United States, by time and by distance.”
Cojuc said Aeromar started operations 32 years, with its maiden flight taking place in November1987.
“We have always been a regional airline, very much focused on secondary, thinner markets, where sometimes we are the only guy that can fly there because of the type of the runway or the type of operating conditions,” Cojuc said.
“And so we have carved out a niche for ourselves around market characteristics but also operational characteristics, where the airline is suited in terms of density and the operating conditions of the airport.”
Some of Aeromar’s destinations are long-standing, such as Colima, Tepic, and Ciudad Victoria. Others were added more recently, such as Acapulco, Veracruz, and Oaxaca. “We are very big in these markets, flying four or five flights a day,” Cojuc said.
As for international, long haul, carriers, Aeormar has agreements with 14. Many of these airlines that need connectivity in Mexico, which is where Aeromar comes in.
Asked about the aircraft in Aeromar’s fleet, Cojuc said:
“We mostly operate the ATR 72, which has 70-seats and we have three of ATR 42s, which has 48 seats. The aircraft is Franco-Italian and perfectly designed for around 300 miles, similar to the United Express. It is slightly smaller than the United Express in terms of capacity. It is not as fast because it is turbo-propped. But, by the same token, it is much more efficient in terms of fuel consumption. It is more eco-friendly, it is quieter.”
Cojuc said even though Aeromar has been operating in McAllen for six years there are still many local residents that do not realize it flies McAllen to Mexico City five times a week. “You do not need to fly north to go south,” he said.
Fast growing market
Asked about the fast-growing Mexican air passenger market, Cojuc said:
“We have a growing middle class and we have grown with the market, As other airlines have come in, we have had to retrench in some places. But in others we have been more aggressive. For example, Oaxaca, we had one flight a day. Everybody flies Mexico City to Oaxaca. But now we are up to four flights a day.”
Asked about the business-tourist ratio for flights to Oaxaca, Cojuc said 60 percent of passengers were flying there on business and 40 percent were tourists.
“We have approximately 130 million in Mexico. Mexico City has a population of 25 million. Oaxaca gets visitors from Europe, Canada, and the United States. Oaxaca gets about 2,000 passengers a day. It is a pretty big market.”
Cojuc said the growth in passenger flights in Mexico in recent years is impressive.
“The Mexican domestic market from 2013 thru 2018 has averaged on a yearly basis more than ten percent. The average compound growth, year over year, is more than ten percent. So, whereas five years ago we were talking about a market of roughly 40 million passengers, now it is just short of 50 million passengers, domestic. It has grown tremendously.”
Asked why the Mexican market is growing so fast, Cojuc gave three reasons. “It is the low cost carriers coming in and stimulating activity. It is the purchasing power of the middle class and also Mexico has been growing slowly but steadily economically. With that GDP growth comes additional industrial activity and additional need for connectivity. So, all the right ingredients have been in place to foster this growth.”
Indeed, since 2016 Aeromar has grown the number of passengers carried by 35 percent. “It is not only a function of what we have done, tactically and strategically, but it is also a function of what the country has been doing in terms of economic activity. It is a good story to tell,” Cojuc said.
Aeromar is a co-sponsor of McAllen’s new MXLAN arts and music festival. The festival, which runs July 24-28, celebrates the past, present, and future of Mexico’s cultural influence on the world, including Oaxaca’s legendary La Guelaguetza performers.
“We are going to be partnering with the City of McAllen on MXLAN. We would be the natural fit for that,” Cojuc said. “If you fly with Aeromar you can leave McAllen at 3 p.m. and be having dinner in Oaxaca at 8:30 at night. In five hours, you do the trip, and you go to your hotel and you are already enjoying your stay.”
Cojuc is convinced MXLAN will ignite a lot of interest into a very unique, cultural region of Mexico. “It is very rich gastronomically and archeology-wise. It is extremely diverse in what it offers tourists. I think MXLAN will whet the appetite for people from South Texas to go to Oaxaca. It is going to be very good for McAllen.”
Praise for McAllen
It is amazing, Cojuc said, but even though Aeromar has been flying out of McAllen for six years, people still come up to him and say they did not know you could fly from McAllen to Mexico City. “Raising that level of awareness is a constant effort,” he said.
Cojuc has nothing but praise for McAllen city and chamber leaders.
“McAllen has been extraordinarily cooperative with us. Very open. We always have very frank discussions. I would go beyond that. I would say if we did not have the partnership we established back in 2012, we would not be flying here today. They are instrumental in our being here. They are extremely proactive in promoting the brand, promoting the service,” Cojuc said.
“We put the ‘international’ into McAllen International Airport. We are the only international airport in the Valley, flying international, on a scheduled basis. At other airports there may be the odd charter flight to Cancun. But day in, day out, the only gateway is McAllen. That is a feather in our cap. We all realize without each other’s friendship and partnership (Aeormar and McAllen) the project would not move forward. It is an excellent working relationship and we are very happy with it.”
Aeromar operates a five days per week flight from McAllen to Mexico City. The off days are Tuesdays and Saturdays. Its passenger load is in the mid 50s. “It is a bit short of where we would like to be but it is a function of the customer niche we like to operate in,” Cojuc said.
Aeromar has 800 employees and is the fifth largest airline in Mexico. Last year the airline carried just short of 750,000 customers. “This year we hope to get close to one million passengers,” Cojuc said.
The only city along the border that has flights to Mexico City is McAllen. Asked why that is, Cojuc said: “There is something about McAllen being top of mind for Mexican people. If you ask someone in Mexico City where is McAllen, they will tell you, it is on the border. across from Reynosa. I think McAllen was more aggressive in courting the Mexican market, many years ago.”
Asked to describe Aeromar’s niche in the market, Cojuc said: “We are not a United, we are not an American. We are in a different category of service. We are like a boutique hotel. Not a hotel with 2,000 rooms and seven pools. We are like a hotel with 20 rooms and a sauna.”