Mexico’s army-run airline takes to the skies, with first flight to the resort of Tulum

by Joshua Brown
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Mexicana Airlines Launch

Mexico’s army-operated airline made its inaugural flight on Tuesday, departing from Mexico City en route to the Caribbean hotspot of Tulum. This development underscores the prominent role President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has entrusted to Mexico’s armed forces. The airline’s military-controlled holding company has now expanded its purview to encompass roughly a dozen airports, hotels, railways, the nation’s customs service, and tourist attractions.

General Luís Cresencio Sandoval, Mexico’s defense secretary, has defended this diversification, asserting that it is “common in developed countries.” In truth, only a handful of countries, including Cuba, Sri Lanka, Argentina, and Colombia, boast military-operated airlines, typically operating small fleets of propeller aircraft, primarily serving underserved or remote domestic routes.

Nevertheless, Mexicana airline aspires to transport tourists from various Mexican cities to popular destinations such as Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Los Cabos, Zihuatanejo, Acapulco, and Mazatlan. The flight schedule appears to focus on weekends, with flights offered every three or four days. The carrier aims to compete primarily on price, with initial ticket prices averaging around $92 for the Mexico City to Tulum route, a claimed one-third cheaper than commercial airlines.

Mexicana also envisions serving 16 smaller regional airports that currently lack or have limited air service. Notably, the cabin crew on Mexicana flights seems to comprise civilians, as the air force in Mexico operates under the umbrella of the army.

Sandoval has revealed that the airline commenced operations with three Boeing jets and two leased Embraer planes, with plans to lease or acquire an additional five jets in early 2024. López Obrador hailed the maiden flight of the Boeing 737-800 jet as a “historic event” and the beginning of a “new stage,” marking the revival of the formerly state-run Mexicana airline, which had undergone privatization, bankruptcy, and eventual closure in 2010.

This endeavor symbolizes López Obrador’s dual reliance on the military, which he regards as the most incorruptible and patriotic branch of government, and his nostalgia for the state-run enterprises that once dominated Mexico’s economy before widespread privatization efforts in the 1980s. He fondly reminisced about the era when government-run entities oversaw sectors such as oil, gas, electricity, mining, airlines, and telecommunications. He criticized privatizations, which were undertaken due to the Mexican government’s inability to sustain the inefficient, state-owned companies.

Nonetheless, it is worth noting that state-run companies in Mexico had garnered a reputation for inefficiency, subpar service, corruption, and political manipulation. For instance, the state-owned paper distribution firm in Mexico often refused to supply newsprint to opposition newspapers. When the national telephone company was state-owned, customers frequently endured lengthy waits for phone line installations and were required to purchase shares in the company to eventually obtain service. These issues largely disappeared after privatization in 1990.

While this administration cannot fully restore the government-run companies to their past prominence, its efforts to recreate them on a smaller scale are portrayed as a historic endeavor to return Mexico’s economy to a more collectivist past.

As the first Mexicana flight departed, the air traffic controller at Mexico City’s Felipe Angeles airport declared, “This will be the great legacy of your administration, and will echo throughout eternity.”

Notably, López Obrador has also entrusted the military with managing many of the country’s infrastructure projects and granted it a leading role in domestic law enforcement. The army played a pivotal role in constructing both the Felipe Angeles airport and the one in Tulum. In addition to increasing traffic at the underutilized Felipe Angeles airport, the army-operated Mexicana appears set to provide flights to support the president’s Maya Train tourism initiative, a train line being constructed by the military to connect beach resorts and archaeological sites on the Yucatan Peninsula. To oversee Mexicana, the army, despite its lack of experience in commercial aviation, has established a subsidiary.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Mexicana Airlines Launch

What is the significance of Mexicana Airlines’ inaugural flight?

The inaugural flight of Mexicana Airlines is a significant event in Mexico’s aviation history, marking the launch of an airline operated by the country’s armed forces.

What is the role of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in this initiative?

President López Obrador has played a pivotal role in this initiative, entrusting Mexico’s military with the operation of Mexicana Airlines and expanding its influence to include airports, hotels, trains, customs services, and tourist attractions.

How does Mexicana Airlines plan to compete in the aviation market?

Mexicana Airlines intends to compete mainly on price, offering competitive ticket prices, such as the initial $92 fare for the Mexico City to Tulum route, which the government claims is one-third cheaper than commercial airlines.

What destinations does Mexicana Airlines plan to serve?

Mexicana Airlines plans to transport tourists from various Mexican cities to popular destinations like Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Los Cabos, Zihuatanejo, Acapulco, and Mazatlan. Additionally, it aims to serve 16 smaller regional airports currently underserved or lacking air service.

How is the Mexican military involved in Mexicana Airlines’ operations?

The Mexican military is overseeing Mexicana Airlines, despite its lack of prior experience in commercial aviation. The airline began with three Boeing jets and two leased Embraer planes, with plans to acquire five more jets in early 2024.

What is the historical context of this initiative?

This initiative reflects López Obrador’s reliance on the military and nostalgia for state-run companies that dominated Mexico’s economy before privatizations in the 1980s. He envisions a return to a more collectivist past.

How does Mexicana Airlines tie into other infrastructure projects in Mexico?

Mexicana Airlines is expected to support President López Obrador’s Maya Train tourism project, connecting beach resorts and archaeological sites on the Yucatan Peninsula. The military is also overseeing the construction of the Maya Train and other infrastructure projects in the country.

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