AIFA Airport Photo 246135612 © Suriel Ramirez Zaldivar
© Suriel Ramirez Zaldivar

The migration of freighter operations from Benito Juarez International, the main airport serving Mexico City, to Aeropuerto Internacional Felipe Angeles (AIFA) is under way.

DHL, the first operator to start services to the designated freighter airport for the Mexican capital, has been joined by China Southern Airlines.

The Chinese airline brought its first flight into AIFA on 2 March from Shenzhen, after resuming flights to Mexico in January following a three-year hiatus. It serves the Mexican capital three times a week.

The movers follow a Mexican government decree that freighter operations have to shift from Benito Juarez, citing congestion at the chronically busy gateway. The deadline for migration has been set for 7 July.

DHL led the move on 28 February with its first flight into AIFA from the integrator’s North American hub at Cincinnati. By June the company intends to have three daily flights coming in, with a scond from Cincinnati and another from Guadalajara.

According to the integrator, its first week in the new location surpassed management’s expectations, with 10-15 tonnes arriving daily at AIFA. This should climb to about 120 tonnes a day when all three flights are in operation.

DHL announced at the end of February that it would be doubling its investment in Mexico for the 2019-2024 period, to $600m. Of that, $55m will be invested in its AIFA operation. According to Mike Parra, CEO of DHL Express Americas, AIFA will handle about 90% of the company’s volume for Mexico City. The remainder is carried on commercial carriers not flying to AIFA.

Most airlines have been reluctant to move from Benito Juarez, as AIFA lacks connectivity on the passenger side. For example, the majority of Lufthansa’s passenger traffic into Mexico City connects to other flights, so a move of its passenger operations to AIFA is not viable. Moreover, the German airline is one of two carriers (with Air France-KLM) that run both passenger and freighter flights to Mexico City and have their own ground handling operation at Benito Juarez.

A spokesperson for Lufthansa Cargo said it was examining the decree to shift from Benito Juarez and will not be making a decision before the review was complete.

The International Air Cargo Association (TIACA) has called for the Mexican government to support airlines during the transfer of operations to avoid disruption. The air cargo group reiterated earlier warnings that, while its new infrastructure is good, AIFA is not fully ready for operations as it lacks certifications for certain processes.

“Considering 62% of the cargo that goes into Mexico City goes in via freighters, we would urge that, where there are carriers with challenges in transitioning, we would urge the government to work with those carriers to find transitional plans that can actually support and not hinder the free flow of cargo,” said TIACA director general Glynn Hughes.

Mr Hughes also stressed that Mexico needs to recover Category One status for its civil aviation sector to allow growth and facilitate new connectivity for AIFA. The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) downgraded Mexico’s aviation safety status in May 2021, which prohibits Mexican carriers from introducing new routes or additional flights to the US. As a result, Mexican airlines have lost market share to their US rivals in the vital transborder market. By one estimate, they lost about $450m in revenue from the downgrade.

Moreover, they cannot introduce new aircraft on US routes, which forces them to deploy older planes and use new aircraft elsewhere.

A review conducted by the FAA last June concluded that Mexico still did not meet safety standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation. There has been no indication when the next review will take place.

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