One Year Without Interjet: How Mexico’s Aviation Market Has Changed

Exactly one year ago, the Mexican carrier Interjet ceased operations. On December 11th, the Sukhoi fleet of Interjet stopped flying altogether, leaving an important gap in the domestic and international market, a gap that has been taken by the likes of Viva Aerobus, Volaris, and Aeromexico.

Interjet ceased operations on December 11, 2020. Photo: Superjet International.

The demise of Interjet

Entering 2020, Interjet was an indebted airline, losing over US$200 million in the previous two years. Nonetheless, Interjet had big plans, including increasing its commercial operations in the United States and launching routes to Honduras and Colombia.

In 2019, Interjet had carried over 15 million passengers and was third overall behind Volaris and Aeromexico. Internationally, it was only behind Aeromexico in terms of travelers.

The hybrid carrier (it wasn’t a low-cost nor a legacy, and that was a disadvantage) had a fleet of 88 aircraft. It operated with 66 Airbus A320 planes and 22 Sukhoi Superjet 100.

This was Interjet’s map route in January 2020. Photo: Cirium.

Interjet flew to over 80 destinations, equally distributed between Mexico and abroad. While everything seemed okay on the surface, underneath, Interjet was in significant debt. The airline had yearly net losses in almost every year since 2013.

A lot can be said to explain Interjet’s financial arrears. I believe the airline’s two main contributing factors towards its disappearance were acquiring the Sukhoi fleet and operating a hybrid model unable to compete with either Volaris and Viva Aerobus in the low-cost segment or with Aeromexico in the legacy one.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the Latin American region, Interjet’s problems magnified. The leasing companies started repossessing Interjet’s Airbus fleet. Suddenly, the airline lost the planes it needed to fly (because the Sukhoi were grounded).

Interjet had a fleet of 22 Sukhoi SJ100 aircraft. Photo: Superjet International.

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The last months

Interjet had no option but to reactivate the Sukhoi fleet and keep on flying a minimal route map. Before that, Interjet planned to sell the Sukhoi aircraft and use a single-type fleet with the Airbus A320. The decision was taken too late.

But, by November, the airline showed signs that it was going under. It first stopped flying for two days, citing operational issues. Then the airline repeated the grounding until December 11 came, and Interjet never flew again.

In January, Interjet’s employees launched a strike against the company, following months of unpaid wages and benefits. The airline owes approximately US$1.25 billion in liabilities. Interpol has issued an international arrest warrant against Miguel Alemán, the airline’s co-founder. One of the airline’s owners, Alejandro del Valle, was detained in September on fraud charges and freed a few months later.

The loss of Interjet, the benefit for Volaris, Viva Aerobus, and Aeromexico

The market share left by Interjet was quickly taken by low-costs carriers Volaris and Viva Aerobus. Aeromexico has also reaped the benefits of having one competitor less but at a slower pace.

In 2021, Volaris and Viva Aerobus have increased their market shares. Viva Aerobus increased its presence in the market from 20% to 28% and Volaris from 31% to 40%. Both carriers are already posting larger traffic numbers than in 2019.

Last month, Aeromexico posted an increase in the number of domestic passengers carried for the first time in the pandemic.

In the meantime, Interjet’s management is facing bankruptcy under Mexican law. They have also appointed a new CEO with the intent of launching an Interjet 2.0 with an Airbus and Let L-410 Turbolets fleet.

It seems unlikely Interjet will ever fly again. Its debt is too big, the bankruptcy process can take forever (take a look at Mexicana’s history), and the brand reputation may be beyond repair. Interjet was an airline that flew in Mexico between 2005 and 2020.

Did you ever fly with Interjet? How was your experience? Let us know in the comments below.

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