“We are currently seeing strong investment from European, German, and U.S. companies in Mexico, especially from the automotive and pharmaceutical sectors,” says Frank Nozinsky, Director Sales & Handling, Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Central America, and Caribbean, at Lufthansa Cargo. Not only are well-known brands expanding their involvement in the thriving Central American market, but many of their suppliers are following suit by setting up operations there or expanding existing ones.
Mexico benefits from ‘China plus’
The emerging trend is music to the ears of freight carriers serving the Mexican market. After all, cargo flights are indispensable for enabling the steady flow of components, spare parts or finished products over longer distances between different production sites. And that is where a new trend is emerging, with near shoring gaining momentum. A phenomenon that some are calling a ‘China plus’. Mexico, together with Vietnam, India, parts of Eastern Europe, or Malaysia, belongs to the ‘plus group’ of countries benefitting from enterprises eager to scale down their China activities.
The local Mexican market offers attractive conditions for entrepreneurs. There is no shortage of labor, 130 million inhabitants provide for high domestic consumption, the country has comparative cost advantages over the USA and Canada for industrial goods, and – above all: Mexico is a member of the USMCA free trade zone, the successor to NAFTA - a huge market that includes the USA and Canada.
Air outgrows other modes of transportation
In 2022, Mexican exports reached a value of USD 591 billion, with USMCA accounting for 81.2% of the State’s total exports. As a result, the mass of Mexican produced goods, predominantly perishables, travels northbound by road. However, air is the fastest-growing segment. It had a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 4.39% in 2022, and is expected to continue its growth in the years ahead.
According to Frank Nozinsky, Lufthansa Cargo has traditionally had a strong presence in Mexico. IATA stats, collected over the past years, evidence that the carrier constantly ranks fourth in terms of tonnage. To date, the company's freighters and passenger aircraft land at Mexico City's MEX Central Airport. A total of almost 568,000 metric tons of cargo were processed there in 2022, the lion’s share of domestic and international cargo handled at Mexico. However, this will change in the weeks ahead, with MEX losing cargo traffic and hence volumes.
The downturn is intended because volumes are only being shifted. This is decreed by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who mandates that all cargo traffic to and from the country’s capital city has to be transferred from Aeropuerto Internacional de Ciudad de Mexico to the Aeropuerto Felipe Ángeles (NLU), 45 km away. Consequently, most combination carriers operating both passenger and cargo aircraft, will face an operational split. Among the Europeans, Lufthansa Cargo and Air France KLM Martinair Cargo are affected by this decision. Hence, from 07JUL23 onwards, both companies will utilize Felipe Ángeles Airport for their cargo operations. “We could have waited a few more weeks to move, but we're going through with it now,” emphasizes Manager Nozinsky.
NLU still faces its endurance test
From then on, transports will become a bit more complicated because part of the shipments will have to be transferred from MEX to NLU and vice versa. The shuttle service will be provided by bonded trucks, announces Mr. Nozinsky. His company operates six B777F flights per week, complemented by lower deck space offered by the seven B747-8 passenger flights linking FRA and MEX, and three A350 rotations MUC-MEX. The manager adds to this that the move from MEX to NLU was extremely complex and “we are proud that our team has accomplished this in a short period of time. Hence, we are confident that operationally everything will work come 07JUL23 and beyond.” He adds that Felipe Ángeles is a modern airport but still faces an operational endurance test.
Weather – an influential factor
Normally, a Triple Seven Freighter can accommodate more than 100 tons per departure. “But we never get above 80 tons on the eastbound leg,” states Mr. Nozinsky. The export weight restriction is partly caused by the altitude of the capital's two international airports, which are both 2200 meters above sea level, but also due to cargo ‘unfriendly’ temperatures at departure time. “If the thermometer has climbed above 23°, we have to reduce the load by 3 to 4 tons for each additional degree,” notes the manager. “With the B777 freighters, we can hardly ever get above 80 tons due to the thin air. The turbines cannot develop sufficient thrust for the aircraft to take off.” However, these restrictions only apply to exports, not imports. Flexibility is therefore required from airlines that carry cargo and fly to MEX or NLU. “We permanently monitor the weather situation and adjust the space available for freight bookings accordingly,” says Frank Nozinsky.
No big party planned
Copa Airlines and Avianca, and in some cases also Latam Cargo, provide the regional distribution of imports processed via MEX and soon NLU, to their final destinations in other parts of Central America. Conversely, these carriers feed Lufthansa Cargo flights with regional exports bound for Europe.
As for the 07JUL23 inaugural Lufthansa Cargo flight to Felipe Ángeles Airport, no big celebration is planned. “Likely, Transport Minister Jorge Nuño Lara will show up,” Mr. Nozinsky says. Competitor Air France KLM Martinair would probably also be pleased should a high-ranking policymaker appear on the occasion of the carrier’s launching NLU cargo flight.
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