Ports and Shipping
Mexico has some 10,000 kilometers of coastline but few navigable rivers and no good natural harbors. The country's 2,900 kilometers of navigable rivers and coastal canals play only a minor role in the transportation system. In the early 1990s, Mexico's seventy-five maritime ports and nine river ports handled 65 percent of imports and 70 percent of nonpetroleum exports. The flow of freight through Mexican ports exceeded 163 million tons of cargo in 1990, representing 31 percent of total freight carried by all modes. The five largest ports--Tampico, Veracruz, Guaymas, Mazatlán, and Manzanillo--handled 80 percent of Mexico's ocean freight.
Veracruz is an important port for general cargo, especially goods headed to and from Mexico City. The port of Tampico primarily handles petroleum and petroleum products. Other important seaports include Coatzacoalcos on the Gulf of Mexico coast and Acapulco on the Pacific. Two new Pacific ports--Pichilingue and Topolobampo--were built in the early 1990s, and another was built on the Gulf of Mexico coast at Progreso, in the state of Yucatán. Between 1989 and 1994, some US$700 million was spent on port development, more than half of that amount provided by the private sector.
Mexico's system of state-owned ports is administered by Mexican Ports (Puertos Mexicanos--PM), a decentralized government agency established in 1989 to oversee the rationalization and streamlining of port operations. To increase the quality of service in the shipping sector and thereby enhance Mexico's export performance, the government announced in 1992 that it would sell management concessions for nine ports--including Acapulco, Lázaro Cárdenas, and Manzanillo--to private buyers. In 1994 ownership of the ports of Altamira, Acapulco, Guaymas, and Tampico passed to the private sector. Mexico expected to complete construction by 1996 of a 437-kilometer coastal canal between Matamoros and Tampico, intended to connect with the United States Intracoastal Waterway system through the Río Bravo del Norte (Rio Grande).
In 1994 the Mexican merchant marine consisted of fifty-eight vessels of more than 1,000 gross registered tons, including thirty-two oil tankers owned and operated by Pemex. The state-owned Maritime Transport of Mexico (Transporte Marítimo de México) operated most of the other ships. Maritime freight is about evenly distributed between coastal and ocean shipping, whereas most seaborne passenger travel is coastal.
Mexico's air transportation system is generally considered adequate to handle projected levels of passenger and freight traffic through the end of the 1990s. In 1994 Mexico had a total of 1,585 operational airfields or airstrips, of which 202 had permanent-surface runways. Forty-four international and thirty-eight domestic airports offer services to all major Mexican cities. Mexico's principal airport and main air transportation hub is Benito Juárez International Airport, on the outskirts of Mexico City. Other major airports at Monterrey, Guadalajara, Mérida, and Cancún also handle large volumes of air traffic.
Air transport services consist overwhelmingly of passenger travel, with air freight representing only 0.03 percent by weight of total cargo transported by all modes in 1994. Mexico's proximity and extensive overland and maritime links to the United States, its main trading partner, account in large measure for the relatively light use of aircraft to transport freight.
In 1992 Mexico had seventy-seven domestic airlines, of which two, Aeronaves de México (Aeroméxico) and Mexican Aviation Company (Compañía Mexicana de Aviación--Mexicana), had international stature. Aeroméxico was sold to private investors in June 1989 after it had declared bankruptcy. Widely known in the past as "Aeromaybe" because of unreliable service, Aeroméxico has maintained consistent on-time performance since its privatization. Also in 1989, the government sold half of its 51 percent stake in Mexicana to private investors.
In 1993 Mexican aircraft flew a total of 325 million kilometers and carried 20 million passengers. Mexico has direct air connections, through Mexicana and Aeroméxico, with the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, and the rest of Latin America. In 1994 twenty-eight international airlines provided regularly scheduled service from Mexico City to major cities in Europe, Japan, the United States, and the rest of Latin America. In addition, a variety of foreign and domestic air charter services flew directly to the country's major resort areas.
Data as of June 1996