In a move that some might describe as unexpected, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced the creation of a new state-owned airline in August, which will be run by the country's army. The carrier's stated focus is on domestic routes, expanding on López Obrador's vision of reviving state-owned enterprises with the help of the nation's armed forces. It is supposed to offer prices 20 percent lower than current rates, according to the Mexican government. However, Bloomberg reported Friday that the expected launch date in December was nearing while no airplanes had been bought or chartered and no flight routes had been registered.
While new state-owned airlines are certainly a novelty, legacy national carriers that remain fully or majority-owned by governments are far from a rarity worldwide. A Statista analysis of International Civil Aviation Organization data and media reports shows that there are still around 100 such airlines in existence around the world today. The new Mexican carrier is to be named Mexicana, after the country's defunct national airline Mexicana de Aviación - showing that nostalgia and national pride remain connected to carriers that have historically represented countries and their governments.
Enlisting the armed forces, for example the army or the air force, to run a state-owned airline has a long history in Latin America and has often reflected the idea of offering affordable flights even in remote locations. Argentina, Cuba and Colombia still own such airlines, albeit on rather small and regional levels, and they also used to exist in Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru. As of August 2023, state-owned airlines were most common in the Middle East and North Africa as well as in Asia. Meanwhile, many state-owned airlines in Sub-Saharan Africa have been sold or gone bust.
A look at the map also shows that state-owned airlines used to be a global phenomenon. The United States stands out as the only major country that has never had a state-owned airline. Neither did Brazil, but the country is a special case where a carrier founded by a regional government, VASP of São Paulo, rose to national prominence with a focus on domestic routes. Countries where more than one state-owned airline still operate are Algeria, Argentina, Cuba, Libya and the United Arab Emirates, which holds the record at three carriers in the hands of state. While a few countries, including Cambodia, Uganda, Estonia and Montenegro, have recently revived state-owned airlines, others have (temporarily) come into ownership again after bailouts, for example the Czech Republic and Italy. Yet again others have tried to unload unwanted airlines onto the market but failed to find a buyer - like Poland and Malaysia.