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Down Mexico way for Asia’s airlines?

Asian travellers bound for the U.S have little choice but to hop on a direct flight to Los Angeles, San Diego, San Fransisco or other West Coast destinations. Now, a new airport player is intent on convincing them there is an alternative, reports associate editor and chief correspondent, Tom Ballantyne.

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October 1st 2021

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Mexico calling. Read More » That’s the message to Asia-Pacific airlines from that country’s largest airport company, Grupo Aeroportuario del Pacífico (GAP). It is set to launch an aggressive campaign, as pandemic recovery gets underway, to lure carriers from across the Pacific to fly to the Central American nation.

GAP, which operates 12 airports in Mexico and two in Jamaica, believes there are good reasons to be confident some of Asia’s carriers will seriously consider the opportunity. Firstly, at one of its major terminals, Tijuana International Airport (TIJ) on the U.S. border, it operates the Cross Border Xpress (CBX), an exclusive pedestrian bridge between Tijuana and San Diego. A brand-new Transit Processing Building is opening that will enable international passengers arriving at TIJ to go directly to U.S. customs and immigration without first being processed through customs and immigration in Mexico.

GAP’s chief executive, Raul Revuelta, told Orient Aviation last month that anyone flying to Los Angeles (LAX) or San Diego from Asia knows how grueling the arrival process can be. “At LAX, if you are coming from Asia you can spend 45 minutes queuing. Here you are going to spend an average of seven minutes so entering the U.S. is really easy. The new building is going to do exactly that. No Mexican customs, only U.S. Homeland Security,” he said.

For airlines, GAP offers another major incentive. The charges and fees at TIJ are 75% cheaper than San Diego and Los Angeles airports. As part of the launch campaign, new airlines flying into TIJ qualify for a year totally free of charges with a second year’s fees discounted by 50%. There are additional cash incentives for advertising new services.

Pre-pandemic the only direct passenger flights from Asia to TIJ were from Shanghai and Beijing, operated by Hainan Airlines and Mexico’s Aeromexico. They were cancelled when COVID-19 broke across the globe. After the U.S., China is Mexico’s largest source of international visitors.

Ministry of Tourism of Mexico has reported that more than 168,000 Chinese tourists visited Mexico in 2018 and the numbers were on the rise. Tijuana ranks as a top destination for Asian travelers. In fact so much so that Mexico is developing “Anchor Attractions” a project aimed at catching the attention of more Asian tourists.

Revuelta, the youngest CEO of a Mexican listed company, told Orient Aviation in an exclusive Zoom call that like elsewhere in the world, the arrival of the pandemic hit the group’s operations badly. “From April to June of 2020 it really was terrible. We lost 92% of our passengers, but after that the recovery was really strong, really robust. For the 2020 full year I would say we closed with minus 35% in the group. This year we are going to be around -10% versus 2019. Some specific airports, for instance Tijuana, are growing almost 12% more than 2019,” he said.

'For sure, at the moment it is really, really difficult to attract new airlines from Asia, but at the end of the day I really believe the infrastructure should be there before the demand. We are working and preparing for the recovery of that market and to have all the infrastructure and correct facilities ready to receive them. We really believe the Asian market will come back'
Raul Revuelta
Grupo Aeroportuario del Pacifica (GAP) CEO

The GAP CEO is well aware that attracting new customers now is difficult, particularly with large numbers of long-haul airliners still grounded. As recovery comes, he said the first step will be restoring Chinese flights with Hainan Airlines.

Tijuana is critical to GAP’s long-term strategy. Manufacturing is the primary source of Tijuana’s growth, exporting medical devices, electronics, aerospace, automotive, and semiconductor products. Big Korean companies such as Samsung and LG have major factories in Tijuana.

Revuelta also sees opportunities for the SkyTeam alliance to expand its network in Mexico through KAL because TIJ has the best connections to a wide range of Mexican destinations.

Another reason for Asian carriers to consider Tijuana is VFR (Visiting Friends and Relatives) traffic, said Revuelta.

Southern California has a large population of Asian Americans, particularly Chinese, Japanese and Korean, with relatives in Asia. Ease of access between the U.S. and Mexico through TIJ and on to Asia would be attractive to traffic in both directions, GAP believed.

Apart from Shanghai, Beijing and Seoul, GAP targets for both passenger and cargo flights include Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Taipei and Tokyo. “Tijuana is a gateway to Southern California. It’s an excellent access point for an Asia-based airline to serve both Mexico and Southern California,” added Revuelta.

“Before COVID our passengers was really inconvenienced. They arrived in Tijuana, stepped out of the plane and proceeded through Mexican customs and immigration. Then they had to go across the bridge and through U.S. customs and immigration. It was terrible. With this new building there will be transit that bypasses the Mexican authorities. You will step out of the plane and go directly to the U.S. border. The other way it will be the same.”

Apart from Tijuana and Guadalajara, GAP’s other airports include Puerto Vallarta, Los Cabos, La Paz and Manzanillo in Mexico and in Jamaica Kingston and Montego Bay.

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