Compared to its great rival, Aeromexico, Mexicana survived the difficult 1980s relatively well. Indeed Aeromexico collapsed in 1988 and had to be restarted under a different company name, albeit keeping the traditional shortened name version, plus all its former assets. Mexicana failed to make a profit in 1982, after 15 previous years of profitable operations, but did make small profits in many of the other years of the decade. In 1988 these shot up to 258 billion Mexican Pesos ($100 million). Nonetheless the combination of economic problems, government interference, plus increasing competition from aggressive deregulated US airlines on cross border traffic made life difficult for the Mexican airlines.
With the deregulation of the domestic aviation market, privatization of the two government owned airlines was a priority and on September 15, 1989 Mexicana was partially sold. A new holding company named Corporacion Mexicana de Aviacion SA de CV was formed and the government's share of it was reduced to 40%. 25% of the total was sold to Grupo Empresas Xabre, a consortium which included Chase Manhatten Bank, Drexel Burnham Lambert, Elias Sacal, Sir James Goldsmith and Carlos Abedrop Davila. The remaining 35% went to Mexican private investors.
The new board of directors was headed by Guillermo Martinez Garcia and he and his board were determined to change the airline and compete against both the US trunks across the border and new domestic competition.
The Mexicana fleet was solid and reliable, but had not seen any new additions since the early 80s and consisted of 5 DC-10-15s and around 40 Boeing 727-200s. There were concerns about the ability of the 727s, in particular, to continue to hold the line in an environment of increasing noise regulation, whilst the DC-10s didn't provide the necessary flexibility in a deregulated market.
Mexicana had looked back into the history of Mexico to before the modern era and focused on finding traditional artistic patterns, both pre and post-Christian, that it could incorporate into the new scheme. The original idea called for each aircraft to carry a completely unique tail livery and demanded the highest standard from the airline's departments of Planning and Control, Decoration and Cleanliness, and Aeronautical Engineering.
Each aircraft required around 1500 hours to repaint into a new scheme variant usually undertaken when they were due for a thorough C-check. The first aircraft to be repainted was one of several newly leased N reg 727s, N1279E, which was renamed 'Olinala' after the artwork applied. She was rolled out in December 1990 and swiftly followed by sister-ship XA-MXC wearing the 'Mitla' scheme. It was MXC that made the first commercial flight of the new livery on January 8, 1991. Her new internal configuration included 138 seats in economy and 12 in first class.
The third aircraft to wear the new scheme was another 727, XA-MEC, which took up the 'Nayarit' scheme and flew for the first time on January 27, 1991. 727s and DC-10s would continue to be repainted over the next few years as they were due for maintenance.
Originally the intention was to have the entire fleet wear a distinct livery variant and 50 separate designs were sourced. By July 1992 the sheer cost and time involved in completing this had become too much and the programme was scaled back to 10 unique designs with another 11 copies of the original 10 with modified colouring, for a total of 21 different tails. The first ten schemes had names based upon the livery but the variants had effectively random names depending on what the first aircraft wearing it was called.
Unfortunately the early 90s proved to be a tumultuous time for Mexicana and it suffered strong competition from new startups like SARO and TAESA as well has the revitalized Aeromexico. In August 1992 the Corporacion Falcon acquired control of Mexicana and the airline posted a whopping $72 million loss for the first nine months of the year.
This change of ownership was to prove to be the beginning of the end of the colourful tails and in part two we'll look at Mexicana and its liveries through to its 75th anniversary in 1996.
For part 2 see: Mexicana's Unique Liveries Pt2: 1993-1996
Jones, G.P. Mexicana Celebrates 75 Years. Airliners No 41
Mexicana, Airplane No 168
Gomez Rojas, A. Spotters Magazine #4 Aviation Photography and Spotting
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I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: