Following a bitter legal battle and a war of words with flag carrier Aeromexico, Emirates has finally launched its long-anticipated flights to Mexico City from Dubai (UAE) via Barcelona (Spain), marking the start of the new daily service on the Gulf carrier’s Boeing 777-200LR.

Despite opposition from its now-rival Aeromexico, Emirates has entered the Mexican market as planned. The Gulf carrier’s inaugural flight EK255, operated on a Boeing 777-200LR (registration A6-EWI) from Dubai International Airport (DXB) via Barcelona El Prat (BCN), touched down at Mexico City International Airport (MEX) on December 9, 2019.

“We are excited to start a new chapter in Emirates’ history, offering a seamless connection between Dubai, Barcelona and Mexico City,” commented Salem Obaidalla, Emirates Senior Vice President of Commercial Operations, Americas, in an official statement. “We expect this service to generate high demand and enhance business, culture and leisure connections as well as boost tourism and commerce between these markets.”

Although Emirates’ inaugural Dubai-Mexico City flight was the first passenger flight to the country by the Gulf carrier, Emirates SkyCargo has been operating freighters to and from Mexico City since 2014. 

The aircraft deployed on the new route is the airline’s newly refurbished two-class Boeing 777-200LR, configured with 38 Business Class seats and 264 seats in Economy Class. The 777 is also capable of carrying up to 14 tons of cargo.

“Emirates is the first Middle East carrier operating from Middle East to Mexico. After our study, we saw that Mexico was not tapped by any Middle East carrier,” Obaidalla said in an interview during the inaugural flight, as quoted by the Gulf News. “We saw the opportunity to go and enter that market and there is a huge business for both passenger and cargo that will add more revenue for our company. And on top of that one, it will link Dubai with Mexico City via Barcelona.”

Direct flights from Dubai are not possible due to the high altitude of Mexico City airport, which results in reduced takeoff performance and restricts the payload of an aircraft, hence, the link in Barcelona. Emirates needed to add a stopover between Dubai and the capital city of Mexico by way of fifth freedom rights, authorized by the Bilateral Air Agreement signed between the governments of Mexico and the UAE, which allows the airline to travel between the two points via a third country. 

The fight for flight to Mexico City

A year after the news about Emirates’ ambitions for Mexico City emerged, the Gulf carrier confirmed in July 2019 that it was looking to launch the new daily service targeting December 9, 2019, as the launch date. The aspirations were met with strong opposition from Aeromexico Group, which, in order to get ahead of the incoming rival, launched its own three times per week service between Mexico City and Barcelona in June 2019, operated on its Boeing 787-8 and 787-9 Dreamliners.

In July 2019, Aeromexico took a step further by announcing it will increase connectivity on the route from three to five weekly flights starting December 10, 2019, and launch its own daily service between Mexico City and Barcelona starting March 2020. The country’s largest airline had already been operating direct flights to the Spanish capital Madrid.

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When Emirates revealed intentions to launch flights from Dubai to Mexico City via Barcelona, Aeroméxico vowed to oppose the move by all means necessary. The flag carrier has since taken legal action pleading the Mexican government to reverse a decision that allows the Gulf airline to exercise fifth freedom rights on the route. To get ahead of the potential market entrant, Aeroméxico has also launched its own service between Mexico City and Barcelona. So where did it all begin and where is the dispute headed?
 

Aeromexico Group argued that Emirates took advantage of the existence of an already mature market between Spain and Mexico to make their commercial operation viable. Emirates, on the other hand, stated that the new services between Spain and Mexico would cater to “underserved demand”, according to the Gulf carrier’s President Tim Clark.

However, Aeromexico’s main argument has always been that of unfair competition on the part of Emirates. The airline has accused – much as its largest shareholder Delta Air Lines – the Dubai-based carrier of receiving illegal subsidies and therefore having an unfair competitive advantage over Aeromexico in its home market. Firing back, Clark stated that by attempting to stop Emirates’ arrival to the country, Aeromexico was “denying Mexican customers competitive options and access into a drastically neglected market”. 

In a legal attempt to block Emirates’ entry, in August 2019, Aeroméxico filed an appeal before the Ministry of Communications and Transportation (SCT) against the allocation of slots in Mexico City, required by the Gulf carrier, and the permission to conduct fifth freedom fights on the announced route. Despite the opposition and all the back-and-forth, in early November 2019, Emirates announced it was officially granted all the necessary regulatory approvals to operate flights between Dubai and Mexico City via Barcelona, as originally planned, making it 1:0 in Emirates favor against Aeromexico.

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An ongoing dispute between Aeroméxico and Emirates over the Gulf carrier’s plans to launch a new service from Dubai to Mexico City via Barcelona is only intensifying. Aeroméxico has cried foul over Emirates’ plans to enter the Mexican market, accusing the airline of having an unfair competitive advantage. Meanwhile, Emirates remains determined on its plans and is already selling tickets on the new route despite not having the required permits or slots to operate in Mexico.