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UPDATE 1-Mexican airline Volaris sees second-quarter profit, room to grow

(Updates with details, quotes and background)

MEXICO CITY, Nov 25 (Reuters) - Mexican low-cost airline Volaris should be profitable and operating at close to full capacity by the second quarter of next year as it weighs up fresh opportunities to expand, its chief executive said on Wednesday.

Volaris President and Chief Executive Officer, Enrique Beltranena, told Reuters in an interview he expected the company to be “EBIT positive” in December, but declined to predict whether it would make a profit in the final quarter of 2020.

Volaris, which he said is now operating at over 90% capacity, has fared better than local rivals in the coronavirus pandemic, increasing its share of the domestic and international markets for air travel in Latin America’s No. 2 economy.

“We think there are big opportunities,” Beltranena said, noting that reduced flight schedules at competitors Aeromexico and Interjet were opening up the market for Volaris.

Aeromexico is working through bankruptcy proceedings in U.S. courts, while Interjet has also faced struggles, abruptly cancelling all flights one day earlier this month.

In September, Volaris got shareholder approval for a capital increase of up to 3.5 billion pesos ($175 million). Beltranena said the company is still mulling when to do it.

“There are three things (to consider) - Volaris’ current performance, the future performance, where we see clear opportunities, and the need for this capitalization to go on the offensive in the market,” he said at his Mexico City office.

In spite of Volaris’ success in Mexico, he suggested the company’s shares were 20-30% undervalued by the market when compared with those of low-cost peers in Europe such as Ryanair Holdings PLC and Wizz Air, as well as Malaysia’s AirAsia.

Beltranena did not expect Volaris to make a profit in the first quarter, noting it was always the toughest one. But he saw profit in the second quarter of 2021.

By June, he added, Volaris would be “practically at 100% capacity” and said the company was this week reactivating the last of its planes that had been parked in the crisis.

The CEO drew optimism on the outlook from what he said was airlines’ success at containing the coronavirus, and argued that a reduction in flights to Europe from North America had made shorter, more direct getaways to Mexico more attractive.

He also expressed the view that Volaris still had scope to win business from long-distance bus companies inside Mexico.

Beltranena, who has been at the helm of the company since it started operating nearly 15 years ago, signalled he had no plans to step down, nor to move away from the budget model that had pushed Volaris to the forefront of the industry in Mexico.

“As long as Enrique Beltranena is at Volaris,” he said, “it’s going to be a low-cost airline.”

$1 = 19.9470 Mexican pesos Reporting by Dave Graham and Noe Torres; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Sherry Jacob-Phillips