The doors have come off the air transport routes between Mexico and the US; this week the aviation bilateral between the two countries has been replaced with an open skies agreement that allows US and Mexican carriers to mount any transborder route they like.

In addition, US carriers have opportunities to connect third countries with Mexico without touching their home market – and they can avail themselves of fifth and sixth freedom rights to manage flows between Mexico and other markets.

“Cargo carriers will now have expanded opportunities to provide services that were not available under the more restrictive agreement,” said the US Department of Transportation.

US freighter operators have shown little inclination to avail themselves of the new opportunities at this point, despite growth in Mexico’s airfreight volume that has attracted international all-cargo carriers.

“At this time, UPS is not planning on increasing flights to Mexico. However, we are always evaluating volume needs to different regions of the world,” commented a spokesperson for UPS Airlines.

“We believe that the current operation that we offer from our hub in Cincinnati will be sufficient to handle our current and forecasted business,” said a spokesman for DHL

A spokesperson for American Airlines Cargo declared that the carrier welcomed the new regime but added that it had “no plans to dramatically alter our frequency or add a widebody service at this time”.

On the Mexican side it has been mainly low-cost passenger airlines that have signalled ambitions to mount or expand service to the US.

Mexican airlines collectively suffered a drop of 0.41% in cargo tonnage to 141,791 tonnes in the first half of this year, according to the national civil aviation authority. Aeromexico, the largest carrier, saw tonnage decline 9.39%.

Tonnage lifted by US carriers declined 2.16% in the period to 76,374 tonnes. However, international airlines boosted their volume 2.82% to 184,699 tonnes.

The latest international entrant is Air Canada, which mounted a twice-weekly all-cargo service between Toronto and Mexico City via Dallas/Ft Worth in May with a B767 freighter operated by Cargojet.

International carriers that run freighters to Mexico, such as Cathay Pacific, Cargolux or Lufthansa , have reported growing business. A major driver has been the automotive sector, which is undergoing massive expansion in Mexico. Between 2013 and 2020 altogether seven new auto plants are coming on stream, including production facilities for Mazda, Honda, BMW and Audi.

Japan-based logistics provider Yusen opened an airfreight branch in Guadalajara with a 16,000sq ft warehouse in mid-August.

“We see increasing demand for logistics capability in Mexico, particularly in areas like Guadalajara, which has become a critical hub for airfreight shipments from Asia,” said Jordan Dewart, president of Yusen Logistics Mexico.

Mexico City, the country’s most prized airfreight market, has little room to accommodate more cargo traffic, though. In February the civil aviation authority authorised a study to establish whether or not it would have to declare the capital’s Benito Juarez airport saturated.

The landside is also a headache, which has resulted in a ban for trucks to enter the airport on weekdays between 1pm and 8pm, one operator reported.

The combination of congestion at Mexico City and lack of infrastructure at smaller airports has been a boon for RFS specialist Mexpess, which runs trucks in bond across the US border, offering transit times of 48 hours from Los Angeles to Guadalajara and from Dallas/Fort Worth to Mexico City.

According to Mike Gamel, chairman and head of sales, this is faster than flying directly into Mexico City, given bottlenecks at customs and airport access in the Mexican capital.

Over the past couple of years Mexpress has added smaller stations to its network. “We started going to the Aguas Calientes and Leons because of the congestion in Mexico City,” said Gamel.

For now, open skies does not seem to bring any challenges for him.

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