Mexico’s reincarnated state-run airline, Mexicana Airlines celebrated its first flight just after Christmas, with a 737-800 taking off from Mexico City last Tuesday destined for Tulum, on the east of the Yucatan Peninsula.
Run by a military holding company, the airline is set to offer services on domestic tourist routes, competing on price as a low-budget alternative to commercial carriers. It currently operates three Boeing jets and rents two Embraer craft, and, according to defence secretary General Luís Cresencio Sandoval, is looking to acquire five more jets in early 2024.
With stewards in civilian outfits, the inaugural flight encountered weather issues and had to reroute to Merida and wait for a new take-off time, eventually arriving in Tulum after five hours, twice the scheduled journey time.
But it is just the first in many such flights, with routes between Mexican cities and resorts such as Acapulco, Cancun, Los Cabos, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, and Zihuatanejo anticipated. These regional connections are reported to be scheduled up to twice a week, the majority on weekends. With prices at around two thirds of other airline tickets, the first 425 Mexico City – Tulum tickets averaged around €83 ($92).
Grand plans for Yucatan
The military is a key plank in President Obrador’s tourism plans. The same military subsidiary now operates about a dozen airports, as well as tourist parks, accommodation, rail services, and customs – something Sandoval has described as common but in fact is the arrangement in only a handful of countries worldwide, including Cuba and Sri Lanka.
In Mexico, part of the military’s brief will be to funnel tourism to and boost economic development in the relatively undiscovered Yucatan Peninsula and drive traffic towards a new Maya Train initiative that connects resorts and historic sites across the five regional states. At a cost of around 18 billion euros, the tourist and cargo rail project was inaugurated early just a few weeks ago in December, and is aiming for completion by February 2024.
Why is the military involved?
Known to some as the ‘Robin Hood’ President, Obrador is long-time believer in state-ownership and has blasted previous administrations for corruption and selling off national assets, while holding that the military are more reliable. “Let’s quickly return everything to the people that’s been stolen,” he told a news conference in 2019, after he himself turned over to the public the Presidential Palace and his predecessor’s private plane.
Tapping into nostalgia for the former state airline, he hailed the Mexicana flight as “a historic event” and a “new stage”.