MAMATOROS, TAMAULIPAS (June 7, 2022).- Just 13 months after its arrival, Mexican low-cost airline Viva Aerobus is suspending operations at Valley International Airport, Harlingen, Texas; effective Thursday, June 9, 2022.
Demand for Viva Aerobus flights to and from Harlingen peaked as it entered the market in May 2021, and officials even announced that due to a high rate of reservations, it was doubling the number of flights to Harlingen even before the first one landed.
Much of that demand was due to the closure of vehicle and pedestrian border crossings between the United States and Mexico due to the pandemic. Once the border re-opened to traffic, many travelers just drove to Monterrey.
“Recent events have made it difficult to sustain air service from a financial standpoint to and from Monterrey, Mexico,” Marv Esterly, director of aviation at VIA, said in an email Monday. “Over the past year, we forged a great partnership with Viva Aerobus and expect to see them back in the near future to serve new destinations in Mexico.”
For years, airport officials in Harlingen had sought to bring in a Mexico airline offering international flights, and Monterrey-based Viva is Mexico’s third-largest airline.
Part of the reason for the early success, officials say, was the suspension of Federal Aviation Administration regulations during the border closures, which allowed Mexico airlines to be listed as Category 1 airlines instead of the usual Category 2.
“The basic way to understand it, is the best category is Category 1, and that carrier can fly anything they want, older markets, new markets … Category 2, which is what we have right now between the U.S. and Mexico, allows airlines from Mexico to keep the routes that they’re flying but they cannot add anything new. Category 3 is you’re not allowed to fly,” Nicolas Mirman, director of the air service and business development at VIA, said Monday.
“So when the border closure was lifted, they were unable to adjust, and the local market from here to Monterrey dried up,” Mirman said. “When you think about it, Monterrey is closer than Corpus Christi, so people started driving to Monterrey.”
In March, Viva Aerobus had 374 passengers flying out of Harlingen. In April, just 53 passengers enplaned.
The airport had been trying to boost Viva Aerobus for the past few months, aggressively pushing the airline’s destinations in Mexico from Harlingen in its mostly online marketing.
At its peak, Viva Aerobus was flying six or seven flights a week to and from Harlingen, Mirman said.
“We are working on the assumption that it is a suspension of operations,” Mirman said. “There are many other projects that we have been working on with them. We expect, hopefully, to have them back soon.”
Low-cost airlines like Viva have been especially hard-hit by jet fuel costs which have increased by 50 percent over the past year or so, and that extra expense is showing up in a sharp rise in the cost of passenger tickets. Fuel costs make up about a third of an airline’s expenses.
The Adobe Digital Economy Index reported passengers spent $8.8 billion on online flight bookings in March, a 28 percent increase in spending over the previous year. But actual bookings only increased by 12 percent year-over-year, indicating air passengers are paying far higher prices for tickets.
Source: Aviación Online