Mexicana to launch regional carrier with 13 CRJ200s

By Brendan Sobie

Mexicana today unveiled plans to launch a new regional carrier with a fleet of 13 second hand 50-seat Bombardier CRJ200 regional jets.

The Mexican airline group announced at a press conference today that Mexicana Inter will launch services on 15 March and operate several domestic routes which were formerly operated by ALMA.

Guadalajara-based ALMA was a low-cost regional carrier which operated CRJ100s and CRJ200s until last November, when it suddenly ceased operations. Mexicana says Mexicana Inter will initially operate several routes from Guadalajara, including to Puerto Vallarta, Torreon, Monterrey, Mazatlan, Chihuahua, Juarez, Veracruz and Tampico.

Mexicana says Mexicana Inter will eventually operate 13 CRJ200s on 25 domestic routes with about 500 employees. It says Mexicana Inter has already secured a new airline concession from the Mexican government.

ALMA also served about 25 domestic routes and operated a fleet of almost 20 CRJ100s and CRJ200s. While most of ALMA’s aircraft are still available, Mexicana VP for corporate planning and fleet transactions Ricardo Baston says Mexicana is not interested in any of these for legal, labour and other reasons. He says he does not know which carriers currently or formerly operate the 13 CRJ200s earmarked for Mexicana but says nine are expected to be sourced from Export Development Canada and the other four from GECAS or other leasing companies.

A GECAS spokesman declined to comment and a Bombardier spokesman says the manufacturer is “not a party to any potential transaction” with Grupo Mexicana. But Baston says although Bombardier will not own any of the aircraft the manufacturer signed a letter of intent with Mexicana for the 13 CRJ200s in December. “The document we executed has a Bombardier seal,” he says.

Mexicana has agreed to lease the aircraft, which are on average are seven years old, for five years.

Mexicana says the airline will complement the two other carriers in its group by operating routes which neither Mexicana mainline nor low-cost unit Mexicana Click can profitably operate. Mexicana mainline currently operates a fleet of Airbus A320 aircraft on dense domestic routes connecting the country's major cities while Click focuses on slightly thinner routes with Fokker 100s. Unlike rival Aeromexico, Mexicana does not have any aircraft smaller than 100 seats in its group.

Aeromexico currently operates a fleet of about 40 regional aircraft on thinner domestic routes under the Aeromexico Express banner. According to Innovata, Aeromexico Express now operates all eight of Mexicana Inter's initial Guadalajara routes except Tampico, which currently is not operated by any carrier.

According to ACAS, Aeromexico Express' current fleet consist of six E-190s, 34 ERJ-145s and three Saab 340Bs with another 10 E-190s on order. Aeromexico Express carries about 2.5 million passengers annually. Mexicana projects Mexicana Inter will carry about 800,000 passengers annually.

The Aeromexico Express brand was introduced in 2007, taking over the operation of Aerolitoral, a regional carrier which was sold along with Aeromexico in 2007 to the Banamex consortium by former parent Cintra. The Mexican government, which controlled Cintra, sold Mexicana and low-cost unit Click Mexicana separately in 2005 to Grupo Posadas.

The government at the time insisted on splitting up the airlines into two groups for competitive reasons but in recent months has indicated a merger could now be more palatable given the rapid rise of several low-cost carriers in the domestic Mexican market since 2006. Mexicana has said it would be interested in a merger but so far Aeromexico has resisted, leaving Mexicana to instead step up competition against its rival.

The launch of the new regional carrier is the latest step in a strategy shift for the Mexicana group which puts it into more direct competition with Aeromexico.

Mexicana historically has stuck to routes within Central and North America, leaving Aeromexico as Mexico's only long-haul operator. But in January that changed as Mexicana launched its first transatlantic service, London Gatwick.

Mexicana next week will also launch service to Madrid and the carrier is now evaluating other potential European routes as part of its new long-haul strategy. It also launched service to Sao Paulo in December 2008. Previously Mexicana's only long-haul route was Buenos Aires.

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