#TBT (Throwback Thursday) in Aviation History: Mexicana

Photo provided by Richard Silagi (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Mexicana was formed in 1921 as Compania Mexicana de Aviacion and was the first airline in Mexico. One of Mexicana’s original investors was Juan Trippe who also founded Pan American Airlines in Florida and Mexicana originally started commercial service with a Ford Trimotor flying between Mexico City and Brownsville, Texas with stops in Tuxpan and Tampico. Over the next few years the airline expanded, adding flights to Cuba, Costa Rica and El Salvador as well as domestic flights to Guatemala City and Veracruz. The Mexicana route map was made to help their alliance with Pan Am, which flew a Miami-Mexico City route in which Mexicana travelers could transfer airlines at. Mexicana also expanded their fleet, adding multiple Fokker aircraft including the FC-2 and F-10.

The airline exploded with expansion in the 1940s, their route map domestically added cities like Monterrey as well as adding new international routes to nearby Caribbean islands, mostly Cuba. The airline added new planes from Douglas Aircraft Corporation which mostly consisted of the DC-3 but Mexicana also ordered the DC-2 and DC-4. The Douglas DC-3 was nicknamed the “El Palacio Aéreo” for its luxury seating. The DC-4, although only a few were ordered, were used for longer haul flights such as Mexico City-Los Angeles and Texas destinations and the flights to the islands. The DC-3 was used in Central America flights as well as domestically. Mexicana used a mostly white livery with two navy lines running down the side of the airplane with the windows in between the lines. The words “Compania Mexicana de Aviacion” was written above the windows and the tail had the Mexican flag. There was a few aircraft with gray and silver bellies, but most were white.

The 1950s slowed the growth of the Mexican carrier as the rivalry with AeroMexico (at the time named Aeronaves de Mexico) was starting to heat up. Nonetheless, the carrier added more flights and aircraft as the flights to San Antonio started in late 1958 as well as the addition of the Douglas DC-6 aircraft to the fleet. The Douglas DC-6 was used for flights to vacation spots like Puerto Vallarta and Cancun.

Expansion came at a price though as the carrier started the jet age in the early 1960s with four DeHavilland Comets but was nearing bankruptcy. The carrier utilized the Comets on long flights and started service with a flight from Mexico City to Los Angeles. The carrier switched management during the bankruptcy in the mid-1960s as the carrier looked to restructure itself and find a way to return to its once profitable self. During bankruptcy, the carrier ordered a few Boeing 727s to continue their conversion to the jet age, however, two of the aircraft were quickly lost in hull loss accidents soon after receiving them. The carrier also utilized the new long-range jets to start service to Puerto Rico, New York, and Chicago.

Mexicana’s growth from bankruptcy slowed as the carrier didn’t want to expand too quickly and fall right back into bankruptcy. The airline continued to accept Boeing 727s into their fleet as well as their first wide-body aircraft, the Douglas DC-10, for more popular markets. The airline also updated their branding scheme, adding the eagle logo that would remain with them till bankruptcy as well as the navy line down the windows being replaced with a tan line with navy edges. The company suddenly got a chance to expand in 1989 when Aeronaves de Mexico would fall into bankruptcy, as a result Mexicana bought a few of the routes to Canada and South America, allowing for more expansion.

The 1990s saw the deregulation of the Mexican airline industry and another rebranding for AeroMexico. The eagle was placed on the center of the tail with a various Braniff-like design with various colors and designs that were applied to the tail. The word “Mexicana” was on the forward fuselage under the windows behind the main doors. The multicolor tails were quickly dropped in favor for a uniform green tail with the same Mexican-styled design on the tail. The airline went though a fleet renewal process at the time too, the Boeing 727s were being retired for Airbus A318s, A319s and A320s and the Douglas DC-10s were replaced with Boeing 757s. Both AeroMexico and Mexicana struggled financially in the 1990s and to avoid losing both national carriers, the government both the companies and merged them but kept them operating separately. Flights to Montreal and Lima started for Mexicana and the carrier also looked into flying to Europe, first by an alliance with United and eventually with leased Boeing 767s in the late 1990s.

The alliance with United was an advantage for Mexicana and on August 2000 the carrier joined the Star Alliance. The time in the alliance was short-lived though, as United quickly fell into bankruptcy with the results of 9-11 and Mexicana continued to lose money. The carrier left in 2004 and also ended up cleaning out the management for the second time in its history. As a result of the management change, the carrier turned a profit in 2004 and was released from the government’s control in 2005. The carrier retired its last Boeing 727 in 2004 for newer Airbus models as well as started a new airline, MexicanaClick. Click was a low cost and regional part of Mexicana, operating an all Fokker 100 fleet with all their routes inside of Mexico. Flights on MexicanaClick started in July 2005 with eight Fokker 100s. The airline also revised its livery during 2005, the green tail was replaced with a navy tail and the eagle was made larger and moved to the rear of the tail. The airplane was given a gray belly with a thin navy line just above the gray. The airline’s website was on the navy engine as well as the eagle.

The airline continued a slow expansion with flights to Las Vegas, Orlando Seattle, Detroit and Charlotte being added. The carrier added the Airbus A330 to its fleet and the Boeing 757s were retired. The airline also joined the OneWorld alliance with an offer from Iberia. The airline was also seeking a way to join an alliance after AeroMexico had joined SkyTeam and Central American carriers COPA and TACA being part of the Star Alliance. Mexicana also switched up their fleet operations as well as MeixcanaClick was transitioned from eight Fokker 100s to twelve ex-Midwest Airlines Boeing 717s as well as making them an all low-cost carrier while a new airline called MexicanaLink would inherit flying regional operations. MexicanaLink operated all domestic flights using 15 Bombardier CRJ-200s. The airline also rebranded again. The airline made the eagle more predominant with the nose of the plane being navy transitioning to white via the top of the eagle logo. The eagle also appeared on the tail in navy and sky blue. The carrier’s name was moved to the center of the fuselage above the over wing emergency exit windows. The nose of the plane on MexicanaClick and MexicanaLink was in sky blue instead of navy but kept the same design.

Despite multiple rebrandings and slow expansion, the carrier slowly lost money and a labor dispute in 2009 led to a loss of profits and in 2010 the carrier filed for bankruptcy. The overall debts for Mexicana was $125 million and a continued labor dispute led the carrier to seeing no way to continue. Mexicana slowly scaled back operations worldwide until they suspended operations on August 28, 2010. As a result of Mexicana’s bankruptcy, various OneWorld alliance airlines, predominantly American Airlines, as well as rival AeroMexico, offered discounted fares to get stranded fliers to their destinations. All Mexicana, MexicanaLink, and MexicanaClick were suspended the same day and their planes were dispersed around the world. Numerous investors came forward to get Mexicana back flying again but with no real unified group of investors, the judge officially declared Mexicana bankrupt and no further investors would be accepted. Today many Mexicana planes fly for other airlines, the Boeing 717s from MexicanaClick now fly for Volotea and Hawaiian. The Airbus aircraft now mostly fly for Sky Airline, Avianca, and AeroGal. AeroMexico inherited a lot of Mexicana’s routes and also took over Mexicana’s Boeing 767 as the once great Mexican rivalry now determined a winner, unless InterJet has something to say about that.

Ian McMurtry

Ian McMurtry

Ian has been an avgeek since 2004 when he started spotting US Airways Express planes at Johnstown Airport in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. He now lives in Wichita and enjoys spotting planes in Kansas City and Wichita as well as those flying at high altitudes over his home. He is a pilot with more than 40 hours of experience behind a Cessna 172, Diamond DA-20, and Piper PA-28. He flies Southwest Airlines on most of his domestic flights and Icelandair when flying to Europe. Ian’s route map spans from Iceland and Alaska in the north to St. Maarten in the south. He is a student at Wichita State University, where he will study aerospace and mechanical engineering.
Ian McMurtry