The 2010 bankruptcy of Mexicana Airlines and its interruption of nonstop flights between Fresno and Mexico did little to dull the popularity of the international service at Fresno Yosemite International Airport.
In fact, since Mexicana's demise, the replacement flights offered by two other Mexican airlines — Aeromexico and Volaris — have attracted ever-growing numbers of passengers.
New figures from Mexico's transportation ministry report that 2013 was a record year for the number of people flying on nonstop flights between Fresno and Guadalajara — the services that put the "international" in the airport's name.
Nearly 67,000 passengers flew from FYI on Aeromexico and Volaris, and more than 67,000 came in on arriving flights. The total passenger departures and arrivals represent growth of more than 16% over 2012.
Representatives of the Mexican government said the flights not only serve tourists and business travelers, but also provide an important connection between Mexican nationals living in the U.S. and their families who remain in their homeland.
"Mexican airlines have their flights completely booked to Mexico, and even though the majority of the passengers are Mexican, many of their family members that accompany them are considered tourists because they were born here," said Vicente Sanchez Ventura, consul general for Mexico's consulate in Fresno.
The Mexican government hopes to build even more tourism through the connections established with the flights to and from Fresno, Sanchez Ventura added. "We know that there is an important exchange between the United States and Mexico and that the people enjoy and will continue to take pleasure in our country's tourism merits," he said.
Almost all of the Fresno flights offered by the two airlines are to and from Guadalajara, although Aeromexico has sprinkled in occasional flights to Mexico City and this winter offered seasonal service to Morelia. Representatives of the consulate have been working in recent years to promote Guadalajara, in the Mexican state of Jalisco, as a growing hub of tourism for health spas and alternative therapies.
About 23 million tourists visit Mexico each year, "despite the very localized problems of insecurity" that Sanchez Ventura said is confined to limited areas "where the government is already intervening."
The Mexico flights have averaged about 80% full over the past couple of years — about the same as domestic flights.
But in December, ridership on the Mexico flights historically surges to about 95% full on the strength of families flying to visit relatives during the winter school break.
Since Volaris and Aeromexico re-launched service in 2011, December ridership has hovered around 13,000 passengers. Last year, however, the number of passengers ballooned to more than 15,000.
Officials at FYI credited the addition of larger Boeing 737-800 jets by Aeromexico and the seasonal Morelia service as one reason the airport set an overall passenger record last year for all flights — domestic as well as international.
More than 1.4 million arrivals and departures were reported by the airport for 2013, topping the airport's previous high-water mark of 1.3 million in 2007.
In addition to the larger airplanes to Mexico, other airlines converted to bigger aircraft for their Fresno service. The improving economy, new routes and expanded service also contributed to the new record.
"We are fortunate to have multiple air carriers serving a number of large airline hubs, which in turn provides good connectivity to major destinations throughout the world," said Kevin Meikle, Fresno's director of aviation. "In today's highly competitive aviation industry, that connectivity is key for an airport our size."
The 10 airlines that fly to and from Fresno provide about 40 daily nonstop flights to cities across the western U.S. and into Mexico.
Like Fresno's limited slate of international service, the Federal Aviation Administration reported that airports nationwide saw the number of international passengers grow by about 7 million through the first three quarter of 2013 — an increase of about 2.2% over 2012.
But Fresno also saw demand grow for domestic flights — a trend that was counter to nationwide figures.
Over the first 11 months of 2013, the number of domestic passengers nationally fell by about 50.4 million, or 2.7% from 2012.
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