Monday, April 15, 2024

AMLO confirms plans for Defense Ministry to operate commercial airline

President López Obrador confirmed Tuesday that the federal government is considering the creation of a state-owned commercial airline to be operated by the army.

He told reporters at his regular news conference that it’s “very probable” that the proposed airline will begin operations next year.

“The economic viability analysis is being done. … There are a lot of places that can’t be reached by plane because they’re not served by the current airlines,” López Obrador said. “… There are cities where there were flights before but now there are none,” he added.

The president’s remarks came after the newspaper El Universal reported that the Ministry of National Defense (Sedena) was working on the creation of a commercial airline that would operate with a fleet of 10 leased planes. The report was based on information El Universal obtained from the hacking group Guacamaya, which recently infiltrated Sedena’s servers and stole millions of emails.

AMLO mañanera
President López Obrador at the morning press conference on Wednesday

The newspaper also said that Sedena is considering the creation of a state-owned tourism company which would operate three hotels along the Maya Train railroad route as well as two museums and two ecological parks.

The airline and the tourism firm would be managed by the Olmeca-Maya-Mexica Airport, Railroad and Auxiliary Services Group, a public company created by Sedena to operate the Felipe Ángeles International Airport, the Maya Train railroad, the Chetumal and Palenque airports and the as yet unbuilt Tulum airport.

Leaked information showed that the cost of operating the airline would be between 1 billion and 1.8 billion pesos (about US $50-90 million) depending on the type of aircraft that are leased. An impediment to the plan is that a company cannot legally operate an airline and airport at the same time, but information obtained by El Universal suggested that the relevant law could be changed without the need for congressional approval – by presidential decree, in other words.

Sedena reportedly considered using the presidential plane for some commercial flights to be operated by the proposed airline, but ultimately determined that doing so wasn’t commercially viable. The government has been unable to sell the luxuriously-outfitted Boeing 787 Dreamliner that López Obrador refuses to use in keeping with his predilection for austerity.

The president said Tuesday that an earlier study concluded that the army-run airline could be profitable. He stressed that more airlines are needed in Mexico because erstwhile flagship carrier Mexicana – which stopped flying over a decade ago – and Interjet have left the market and Aeromar has reduced its flights.

López Obrador also said that the government would facilitate the entry of any other new airlines that wanted to operate in Mexico as long as they are economically solvent and “responsible.”

He said he would like the new state-owned airline to be called Mexicana, provided there are no legal impediments. Naming the airline Mexicana would be to “return a symbol, an emblem, to the nation,” López Obrador said.

“… We have to see if [the name] is public property, we have to do an investigation, but that would be the best name,” he said.

The creation of an army-operated commercial airline would further increase the responsibilities of the military, upon which the president has relied heavily during his almost four years in office.

It remains to be seen how popular an army-run airline would be in a country where military aircraft have been involved in numerous fatal accidents.

The results of a poll posted to Twitter by Pascal Beltrán del Río, director of the Excélsior newspaper, suggested that demand might not be all that high. Over 91% of more than 25,000 respondents said they wouldn’t fly on an army-run commercial carrier.

With reports from El Universal and Animal Político 

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