MCALLEN, Texas – A discussion took place at a recent McAllen Economic Development Corporation board meeting on whether McAllen International Airport could become a major hub or a mini hub for flights into Mexico.
McAllen EDC President Keith Patridge said an excellent partnership being developed between Aeromar and the City of McAllen could catapult McAllen International Airport to mini-hub status.
Fabricio Cojuc, executive director for network strategy and alliances at Aeromar, was more bold. He said there is no reason the airport could not be a major hub. Before the discussion took place, Cojuc gave the board of directors a powerpoint presentation about the growth of Aeromar and its plans for McAllen.
Aeromar currently flies directly from McAllen to Mexico City, Monterrey, and Guadalajara. Cojuc said he is currently looking at three more direct flights to other destinations in Mexico but did not name them.
“We really want to support Liz, and the City, and Aeromar,” said Patridge.
“What they are doing in Mexico is really going to be a strategic advantage for us because, in effect, what we are doing and forgive me, Fabricio, I kind of throw this out there: I think what we are basically doing is creating a mini-hub into Mexico.”
The “Liz” Patridge was referring to was Liz Suarez, aviation director for McAllen International Airport. In her report to the MEDC board, Suarez said passenger traffic is up 100 percent, year-to-date.
“That is good. We have load factors up about 17 percent and flights to market are up about 45 percent. We are currently capturing 49 percent of the RGV market share, as well,” Suarez said.
In his discussion about Aeromar, Patridge said the direct and one-stop network the airline is developing out of McAllen is great news for maquiladora companies and their suppliers in Reynosa and McAllen.
“If we can continue that (growth), the importance to the companies that are coming in, particularly supplier companies, when they are looking at supplying plants in the U.S. and plants in Mexico, the ability to get on a plane and literally either have a direct flight or a one-stop flight, which is very quick, to get to your customers is extremely important,” Patridge said. “It is getting a lot of interest among our companies.”
By way of example, Patridge said he was talking to the president of a maquiladora that had just held a groundbreaking ceremony.
“I mentioned it (Aeromar’s plans) to the president of the company. He said, that is extremely important because they are traveling to most of those cities that Fabricio and Aeromar are already serving,” Patridge said.
“We still have one two (destinations) that we have yet to get to that are going to be critical but I think we will do that as soon as the safety issues are gone.”
The safety issues Patridge was referring to involve Mexico complying with an audit conducted by the Federal Aviation Administration. Until the country does so, no Mexican airline can expand its operations in the United States.
“This is extremely important for us and we want to make sure we do everything that we can to support that (Aeromar-City of McAllen partnership) because we will actually be the only city, I think, on the border that will have that type of arrangement to fly into these different cities. And, so, Fabricio, I would like to thank you. Liz and the City of McAllen, also, because they have really stepped up to help support this. So, it is a team effort and we appreciate what everyone is doing.”
Cojuc gave a very optimistic response.
“Our board is extremely enthusiastic about what we have achieved here and they keep pressing me to do more, which is good. But not only to think in terms of air service but what more can we do locally to multiply the connectivity. Can we do more by land? Can we do it by bus? What else can we do to enhance experience of the customer who gets here?” Cojuc said.
“And I agree with you (Keith). I have, myself, three routes on my radar. One we have talked about at length, Keith and I. We believe that one is ripe for development and implementation. If you paid attention (to my powerpoint presentation), and I know I went very fast, but San Luis with a one-stop we did about 500 passengers in three weeks. If you take those 500 and assume you would fly a 48 seater twice a week you have a 70 percent load factor. So, San Luis (Potosi) seems ready to start a non-stop to McAllen at least twice a week.”
That said, Cojuc acknowledged Aeromar has benefited from the travel ban imposed on Mexican visa holders that stops them crossing land ports of entry. The travel ban does not affect international flights.
“I know these numbers are distorted because of the vaccination and what have you but there is something there. And there is another city, I will not reveal, that I am looking at,” Cojuc said.
“There is room to grow. That is the message and so if we can capitalize this growth together, we could not have a mini-hub but maybe a major hub for connectivity along the border.”
Cojuc said no other border city in the U.S. except San Diego, Calif., has service to Mexico like McAllen does.
“McAllen is the only border city in all of the United States with non-stop services, not only to Mexico (City) but Monterrey and Guadalajara. So, we are very proud of that but we can keep on building on that. Let’s do it together.”
Representing Index Reynosa, the maquiladora trade association, Enrique Castro, not for the first time at an MEDC board meeting, said he would like to see a direct flight from McAllen to Queretaro.
In his powerpoint presentation, Cojuc said Aeromar has been flying out of McAllen since late 2012. He thanked McAllen EDC for the incentives it provided to help launch their service from the city. He said Aeromar has a state-of-the-art fleet of turbo-propped AKR 42s and 72s.
Cojuc thanked the City of McAllen, McAllen EDC and the McAllen Chamber of Commerce for supporting Aeromar in good and bad times. “We have seen it all and fortunately we are here and growing,” he said.
Between March 18, 2013, and the end of July, 2021, Aeromar has serviced 5,000 flights and carried close to 140,000 passengers out of McAllen to Mexico. “Those are very good numbers for an airline of our size,” Cojuc said.
The new service to Monterrey has been a “grand slam,” Cojuc said, proudly, while flights to Guadalajara are doing “much better than expected.” This year, he said, Aeromar is experiencing “phenomenal growth” out of McAllen. “From January to July we are basically doing in seven months what we were doing in 12 months, in years past.”
Aeromar’s best year, to date, was 2017 with 16,199 passengers flying out of McAllen. “We have basically done that by the middle of August (this year),” Cojuc said. “The same number of flights as 2016-17 but with significantly higher volumes of passengers.”
Cojuc reported that McAllen “now plays a pivotal role in our network.” He said it is “the fourth busiest station that we have out of the 20 that we serve in our network.”
Passengers flying from McAllen to Monterrey can then fly direct to Aguascalientes, San Luis Potosi and Torreon. He said this was a “a pre-emptive strategy, thinking about when the border will open again. If I am an airline, I don’t want it to happen.”
When the travel ban on Mexican visa holders crossing land ports of entry is lifted Aeromar expects a “dilution of traffic” to Monterrey, Cojuc said. “It will naturally happen,” he said. However, he remained confident there would be enough passengers to keep the service going.
“Clearly, the coronavirus pandemic has created a huge opportunity for us. It is a bit unfortunate but you take whatever opportunities are there for you; the vaccination drive and border being closed.”
Cojuc also spoke about the Mexico not complying with an audit performed by the FAA. As a result, he said, Mexico’s ranking was downgraded in May of this year.
“That means Mexican airlines cannot increase service into the U.S. They cannot open any new routes or change equipment on the existing routes. As long as that, let’s say, regime continues or this status is in place, we cannot increase our flights into McAllen,” Cojuc said, disappointingly.
“The most we can do is 27 flights a week. We would like to do something like 35 or 40. We have one new route on the back burner that we believe will be a success. We have not been able to make any progress on that front, as long as the situation is in place. Hopefully that will get resolved. My crystal ball tells me it is going to take about three to four months for that situation to be solved but nobody really knows.”
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows Fabricio Cojuc of Aeromar. (Photo credit: Steve Taylor/RGG)
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