Saturday, January 14, 2017

Mexican airline sees opportunity at General Mitchell International Airport (KMKE)

The process for landing new international air service at Mitchell International Airport began at one of Milwaukee’s ethnic festivals.

“Two years ago we sent a sales team to Mexican Fiesta,” said Miguel Aguiñiga, the manager of international markets for Volaris Airlines, during a telephone interview from his office in Mexico City.

“The team found out there are a lot of people of Mexican descent, as well as a lot of people in the area interested in traveling to Guadalajara or to Mexico.

"That’s why we started to look into the market," Aguiñiga said. "We started to do the research for planning a new flight out of Wisconsin.”

Volaris Airlines, based in Mexico City, will begin nonstop service between Milwaukee and Guadalajara in March. The airline is the first Mexican carrier to offer year-round scheduled service from Mitchell International.

The nonstop flights to Guadalajara begin on March 3 and will operate every Wednesday and Friday, departing Milwaukee at 12:32 a.m. and arriving in Guadalajara at 5:02 a.m. Return flights begin March 2 and will depart Guadalajara every Tuesday and Thursday at 4:53 p.m. and arrive in Milwaukee at 8:55 p.m.

Volaris is already flying out of O'Hare and Midway airports in Chicago. Its research determined that Milwaukee was too good to pass up, even while serving two airports in Illinois.

The staff at Milwaukee County owned and operated Mitchell International also made it very clear they wanted Volaris to bring service here and worked to make it happen, Aguiñiga said.

Nearly 600,000 people of Hispanic descent reside in Wisconsin or northern Illinois, airport officials have said.

"That is a huge market," Aguiñiga said.

The Latino population in metro Milwaukee has more than tripled since 1990, and now totals more than 160,000, or slightly more than 10% of the region’s total population according to "Latino Milwaukee: A Statistical Portrait," a study commissioned by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation  and conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Center for Economic Development. The study was released in April 2016.

"The vast majority of Milwaukee Latinos, regardless of immigration status, are of Mexican (66.8%) and Puerto Rican (23.3%) national origin," according to the study.

"Among Milwaukee’s foreign-born Latino population, the overwhelming majority (87%) was born in Mexico," according to the study.

Those numbers fit into the Volaris business plan.

"Our market is the 'VFR' market: visiting family and relatives," Aguiñiga said. "That’s where we saw quite an opportunity.

"Milwaukee looks like a great opportunity for our main market — Mexican descendants going and visiting family," he added.

"Out of the 25 cities we fly out of from the U.S. to Mexico, a large amount of those passengers are going to be visiting family and relatives and stay a couple days or weeks at their Mexico destination."

In deciding whether to enter the market, Volaris also discovered additional information that solidified the decision to add Milwaukee service.

"Right now, Mexico represents the second-largest trading partner with Wisconsin for exports," Aguiñiga said. "We found out there are 900 companies based in Wisconsin that currently export to Mexico. "And, 69% of those companies send people to Mexico yearly. And of those, about half make multiple trips."

Exports from Wisconsin to Mexico are valued at $2.9 billion, according to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.

Companies that have a presence in Mexico include some of the biggest names in Milwaukee and Wisconsin business: Johnson Controls, Kohler, Manpower, Quad/Graphics, Rockwell Automation.

"A lot of business travelers throughout the year can use this direct flight," Aguiñiga said.

Volaris is an ultra low-fare carrier with a solid reputation in the air travel industry. Volaris round trips between Milwaukee and Guadalajara start at $238. Passengers can spend more for such things as roomier seating and in-flight amenities.

The airline has to keep its fares low, Aguiñiga said, because its main competition is land-based.

"We always compete against the buses," he said. "We want more people to fly and not use the bus. That’s why we have to maintain our fares."

The airline only flies the Airbus A320 family of jetliners. The A320 and longer-bodied A321 are a twin-engine jets with three seats on either side a single aisle. Having one type of aircraft helps control costs for airlines.

Volaris has seen steady growth. When it began operations in March 2006, Volaris had five routes and four aircraft. As of November, it had 159 routes and 68 aircraft.

While the airline's focus is on visits and business, it will take leisure travel as it comes.

But would anyone want to go to Guadalajara on vacation?

Absolutely, Aguiñiga said.

"Guadalajara is one of the most beautiful cities in Mexico,"  he said.

It's not a beach resort town. It's the nation's second-largest city and capital of Jalisco. "It’s 100% more the Mexico culture," Aguiñiga said. "It’s a very cultural destination."

Guadalajara is the "birthplace of mariachi music and tequila, but also one of the country’s industrial and business centers," according to

"The food is amazing," Aguiñiga said.

In a travel story from March 2016, the New York Times described Guadalajara as “a former 16th-century trade outpost," and    "one of Mexico’s most traditional cities, a place where leafy boulevards are patchworked with French Baroque colonial mansions.”

The story appeared under the headline "Guadalajara, Mexico's Party City."

"Thanks to a new arts and crafts movement, the galleries there are as cutting-edge as the food," the story reported.

"It’s a great, great city to go and do leisure," Aguiñiga said.

Volaris began selling the Milwaukee to Guadalajara service late last year.

"We’re very confident about the market response,"  Aguiñiga said. "We started selling this market in late November, and the future bookings look really, really good. We’ll see how the market grows and what our passengers really demand."


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