TULUM, Mexico – As the arrival of Mexicana de Aviación looms on the horizon, a seismic shift in the commercial airline landscape is anticipated. While it promises fierce competition among well-established carriers, it also beckons the emergence of a new player in the fray, the Tulum International Airport, set to become a secondary hub alongside its primary base, Felipe Carrillo Puerto. This impending development is poised to ripple through the industry, triggering a fascinating contest with the renowned Cancun International Airport (AIC), a prominent fixture on the Caribbean’s aviation map.
The realm of aviation analysts has been abuzz, meticulously scrutinizing the prospects of the nascent facility in its standoff with the illustrious AIC. The latter, a formidable gateway to the Mexican Caribbean, dominated the aviation scene by welcoming a plethora of international tourists during the initial half of 2023.
Presently, over half of Cancun Airport’s operations are rooted in international destinations, a remarkable feat that endured even in the wake of the global pandemic. Carlos Torres, a seasoned industry analyst, remarked, “It remains to be seen whether the conditions at the new airport can create sufficient incentives to pique the interest of international airlines to chart courses to and from Tulum.”
In the capable hands of the Grupo Aeroportuario, Ferroviario, de Servicios Auxiliares y Conexos Olmeca-Maya-Mexica (GAFSACOMM), the Tulum Airport has already advanced beyond the halfway mark in construction. At an earlier juncture, Torres disclosed that the project was intentionally shelved to prevent cannibalizing Cancun’s market share.
However, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has expressed his vision for Tulum’s aviation masterpiece to be ready by the close of 2023. Coinciding with this timeline is the maiden flight of Mexico’s new flagship airline, Mexicana de Aviación. The airline is set to commence operations with a network encompassing 20 destinations, prominently featuring Cancun, Monterrey, Guadalajara, Tijuana, and Campeche.
AIC Under Siege
Meanwhile, independent aviation analyst Fernando Gómez foresees an impending tussle between Tulum and AIC. This looming rivalry stems from Mexicana’s strategic alignment with some of the most pivotal routes currently dominated by Aeroméxico, Viva Aerobus, and Volaris. It follows, therefore, that Tulum will be poised to challenge AIC directly, given that a significant chunk of travelers arriving at Cancun invariably proceed to the enchanting Riviera Maya.
Gómez confidently asserted, “Tulum’s airport holds immense potential within its terminals. Nonetheless, the current investment falls short. It would have been judicious to concentrate on regional routes, rather than participating in the competition for the same ten routes that are currently oversaturated.”
Torres echoed this sentiment, postulating that low-cost carriers may seize opportunities in Tulum over the ensuing years. Nevertheless, he concedes that the transition of network airlines, especially those hailing from the United States and Canada, from Cancun to Tulum remains a formidable challenge due to their entrenched foothold in Cancun.
In the days leading up to the present, Major General Gustavo Vallejo Suárez, who spearheaded the team of engineers responsible for the creation of AIFA (Aeropuerto Internacional Felipe Ángeles), offered insights into Tulum’s progress. The Tulum Airport has surged ahead, achieving 57% completion in physical construction and 50% in terms of financial investment. The envisaged capacity of this upcoming hub stands at a remarkable 5 million annual passengers, underpinned by a sprawling 3,700-meter runway.
Vallejo went on to elaborate that the airport’s strategic location lies 26.9 kilometers to the southwest of Tulum city, along federal highway 307. Notably, this ambitious endeavor has breathed life into the local economy, generating over 12,000 employment opportunities.
Cancun’s Star Continues to Shine
The months spanning from January to July saw Cancun Airport assert its supremacy, ushering a staggering 19.6 million passengers through its gates. This impressive feat translates to a remarkable 12.4% growth compared to the corresponding period in 2022, a testament to its unwavering allure.
Domestic travelers accounted for a substantial portion, representing 6.7 million visitors over the initial seven months, reflecting an impressive annual growth rate of 18.4%. On the international front, 12.9 million passengers graced the terminals, a commendable increase of 9.5% over the preceding year’s figures.
In an intriguing revelation, the initial half of the year witnessed a triumphant procession of international tourists through various Mexican airports. The triumvirate of AIC, Mexico City International Airport (AICM), and Los Cabos International Airport (SJD) basked in the spotlight, collectively hosting a staggering 8.075 million international visitors, an impressive uptick of 1.9% compared to the same span in 2022.
Within this panorama, Cancun Airport made a significant contribution, proudly accommodating 4.835 million international travelers. This represented a modest yet significant rise of 0.2% over the preceding year. AICM, on the other hand, witnessed 1.983 million tourists arriving on its runways, marking a commendable 0.5% annual growth. Simultaneously, Los Cabos Airport reveled in an impressive 11.7% surge, hosting 1.257 million international visitors, compared to the previous year.
Notably, the collective constellation of other airports facilitated the arrival of 2.769 million international tourists during the first half of 2023. This resounding figure underscores a remarkable 18.3% increase vis-à-vis the previous year’s performance, attesting to Mexico’s enduring allure on the global tourism stage.