Worldwide, almost 30% of airlines’ fleet is still grounded, according to data provided by Cirium. In Mexico, though, most commercial airlines’ planes have resumed their operations, but are they flying enough?
Mexican airlines finished 2019 with an active fleet of 355 planes. This number has already been reduced to 258 due to two main reasons: Interjet’s crisis and Grupo Aeromexico rejecting some leasing contracts. Interjet has lost 100% of its pre-COVID Airbus fleet, that is, 66 aircraft. Meanwhile, Aeromexico has reduced its active fleet from 125 at the end of 2019 (plus six Boeing 737 MAX, which are grounded) to 101 at the end of the third quarter of 2020.
Meanwhile, the airlines are already using their remaining fleet, deploying it in the Latin American region’s best recovery (so far). But, are the planes flying enough? Is there a place to improve?
The number of operations
As you can see, the number of operations reached its bottom in May, when the air industry registered 5,472 operations across Mexico. This month, the most used planes across the airlines were the Embraer E190 of Aeromexico, with 1,262 flights and the Airbus A320neo with 1,278. Previous to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Airbus A320 was the most used plane in Mexico. Since June, it recovered its first place. Still, the number of operations by the Mexican commercial fleet is 47% below the numbers of 2019.
The number of flown hours
Likewise, the number of flown hours is still more than 50% below 2019. In this regard, some aircraft types like the Airbus A320 have been flying a lot less than others. For the Airbus family in Mexico, we have to consider the Interjet drama. The airline lost 66 planes, which means 66 fewer aircraft logging hours in the sky. Despite that, Viva Aerobus and Volaris (also Airbus’ clients) are recovering quicker, so they deploy their fleets faster in the country.
The long-haul fleet in Mexico are the 19 Boeing 787 of Aeromexico and is still pretty much grounded. In September, it had 72% fewer flying hours than in January. On the other hand, the Airbus A321neo and the Sukhoi SSJ100 aircraft are already flying more than they did in January, but that’s because Volaris and Viva have received newer Airbus planes and Interjet has brought its Russian planes back from retirement.
Why does it matter?
Airlines lose money when their planes are on the ground. These machines are made to be in the skies, not gathering dust on the ground. So, airlines are keen to put their fleet back to work. But there are other companies that lose money if the planes aren’t flying. Think, for example, of the MRO’s in Mexico, such as Mexicana MRO or Delta-Aeromexico Tech Ops, which don’t have as much work as they used to, or the suppliers of spares, and also, think in the leasing companies, especially those that deal with Aeromexico.
As part of its Chapter 11 reorganization, Aeromexico got approval to change leasing agreements of most of its fleet to Power By The Hour contracts. For the airline, this means excellent news as it can decrease its expenses, but, for the leasing companies, it will be a new headache on the horizon.
Despite the numbers, the Mexican aviation industry is surviving, compared with other Latin American countries. While the international connectivity is far from recovered, the domestic market is seemingly returning to its pre-COVID levels. Let’s just hope that the airlines can deploy their aircraft to maximum utilization.
Daniel Martínez Garbuno is a Mexican journalist. He has specialized in the air industry working mainly for A21, a Mexican media outlet focused entirely on the aviation world. He has also published on other sites like Simple Flying, Roads & Kingdoms, Proceso, El Economista, Buzos de la Noticia, Contenido, and Notimex.