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Update: Qatar Denies Fifth Freedom Mexico City Routes
As international traffic is starting to show signs of a yet-sluggish recovery, airlines are doing their best to take advantage of opportunities available in the marketplace after the COVID-19 pandemic has produced a shake-up like never seen before in the airline industry.
One of these companies is Qatar Airways, the ambitious Qatari-flag carrier that has continued to fly throughout the pandemic just after a four-year embargo on behalf of some of its neighbor countries that had caused major operational challenges.
Last week, Qatar Airways started discussions with the Mexican Tourism secretary, Mr. Miguel Torruco, who announced the intention to explore the feasibility of a new route between Doha and Mexico City via an intermediate stop in Milan, Italy. This route would be a so-called “fifth freedom” route since it would allow a carrier to fly between Milan and Mexico City without being neither an Italian nor a Mexican carrier. This type of operation would have to be allowed under the bilateral agreements of the three countries involved.
On the day of the meeting, Mr. Torruco tweeted: “Among the topic discussed during the meeting [with Qatar Airways] are the bilateral agreement between Qatar and Mexico; possible promotional activities to increase the tourism flows between the two countries; possible fifth freedom rights for the route Milan-Mexico City”.
An intermediate stop between Mexico City and Doha is made necessary by the high altitude at which the Mexican capital is located. Aeropuerto Internacional Benito Juarez, the main airport in Mexico City, is located at 7,316 ft (2,230 m) above sea level, and this causes substantial operational restrictions to aircraft intending to fly at full load over long distances. The great circle route between Mexico City and Doha is 8,784 nautical miles (16,268 km), which is very close to the range of modern airliners but would not be operationally possible when taking off from the Mexican capital.
Fifth Freedom Controversy
In 2019, Emirates started operating a service to Mexico City from their Dubai hub with a stop in Barcelona, enjoying fifth freedom rights between Spain and Mexico and therefore being able to sell passages between Barcelona and Mexico. This caused major protests from Aeromexico and the Mexican pilot union, ASPA, who that saw Emirates’ flight on the route between Mexico City and Barcelona as unfair competition to Mexican and Spanish carriers, latestaviationnews.com reports.
While this would be Qatar Airways’ first route operated under fifth freedom rights, Emirates already operates another route under this provision in addition to the one serving Barcelona and Mexico City. The other route also involves the city of Milan, which would be the planned “stopover” point for the Doha-Mexico City service. In fact, Emirates operates a service from Dubai to Milan and then on to New York JFK in addition to the two non-stop flights connecting the Emirates hub with the Big Apple’s main international gateway.
Currently, there are no scheduled flights between Italy and Mexico. Alitalia was the last airline operating services from Rome, but they stopped several years ago. Also, Emirates is the only carrier connecting Barcelona and Mexico City directly, while the Milan-JFK route is a lot more crowded, with four other carriers serving the route when the Emirate service was launched: American Airlines and Delta Air Lines on the US side, and Alitalia and the now-defunct Air Italy, a Qatar Airways subsidiary, on the Italian side. In addition to that, there was also a flight by United Airlines to Newark, making Emirates’ connection the sixth alternative for flights to the New York area.
Update (7/2/21): A few days after publishing, Qatar Airways categorically denied any interest in starting a service to Mexico City, either non-stop or via an intermediate point. “This is not part of our network strategy and our focus remains on rebuilding the network with Doha as the hub of operations,” said Thierry Antinory, Qatar Airways CCO, via the airline’s Twitter account.
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