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Rebuilding the Latin American link

Thanks to new flight services set to begin next month, the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport will once again be international, or rather “internacional.”

AeroMexico, the largest airline in Mexico, plans to start a new route between New Orleans and the company’s hub in Mexico City, with six nonstop flights per week and continuing service to San Pedro Sula, Honduras. It represents the first regular international service for the Crescent City since Hurricane Katrina.

The deal came together through the teamwork of private business and public entities, led by the economic development group Greater New Orleans Inc., and it has been widely praised as both a practical pipeline for new business opportunities and tourism and as a symbolic milestone for the city’s recovery.

“It means that Louis Armstrong airport is truly international again, it means that the Greater New Orleans region is on its way to reclaiming the mantle of ‘Gateway to the Americas,’ and it means that through public-private collaboration we can make great things happen,” says Michael Hecht, president and CEO of GNO Inc.  

One partner in that collaboration was Ochsner Health System, whose participation underscores the potential for diverse business development between the New Orleans area and AeroMexico’s Latin American markets. Some 4,000 international patients seek care at Ochsner each year, and most travel from Central America and South America.

The new service follows other signs of the increasing connections between New Orleans and Latin American markets. Last year, the Mexican government reopened its consulate in New Orleans after an absence of six years, citing the surge in Mexican citizens living and working here now. For their part, AeroMexico representatives see the move as sound business.

“Our decision is a statement about the distinctive service we plan to bring to your city,” says Frank Galan, vice president of the airline’s U.S. division. “It also is an expression of our confidence in New Orleans and the tremendous progress you have made since Hurricane Katrina.”

He says AeroMexico may also add new service from New Orleans to Cancun, a direct flight not available since 2003.

An economic impact study of the new Mexico City service conducted by Loren C. Scott & Associates predicts some 8,000 new passengers a year passing through the New Orleans airport, who could contribute as much as $4.1 million in direct spending.

Non-stop flights to Mexico City from New Orleans will depart at 6:30 a.m. with arrival at 9:10 a.m. Return flights depart at 8:10 p.m. with a New Orleans landing scheduled for 10:30 p.m. Both flights will use smaller “regional jets,” the Brazilian- made Embraer EMB-145 which seat 50 passengers.

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