An independent Mexican airline hopes to restore international service to Tucson as soon as this summer.

Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild and Vice Mayor Regina Romero led a delegation to Sinaloa last week and met with officials who want  flights between Tucson and Hermosillo, Sonora,  every other day.

“Almost daily flights ... will be what we need to really open trade and tourism,” Rothschild said Tuesday during a briefing on his trip.

Tucson International Airport lost its last international flight in 2008 when Aeromexico suspended flights to Hermosillo out of Tucson. The airline had four flights a week between Tucson and Hermosillo.

Airport and city officials have since been working with various airlines to restore flights to Mexico. One proposal was to make Tucson a stopover for airlines flying out of Phoenix to Hermosillo, but it did not pan out.

A recent proposal by Phoenix-area government leaders to expand the border zone for shoppers adds urgency to the matter, Romero said.

The border zone allows shoppers from Mexico to spend up to 30 days in Arizona within 75 miles of the border.

“Airline routes to Tucson could counter the impact of a border zone expansion,” Romero said. “And help us retain loyalty.”

She noted that the mayor of Mazatlán is a University of Arizona graduate and that the lieutenant governor has a second home in Tucson.

Proponents of the expansion say the move would allow shoppers to patronize stores throughout Arizona, benefiting the state with increased sales taxes.

An official announcement about the airline route could be made in the next couple of months, Rothschild said.

Aside from negotiating airline service, the trade mission to Sinaloa addressed improvement to highways that lead to the U.S. border.

Improvements to Mexican Highway 40, the east-west route that leads to Laredo, Texas, has created an appealing alternative for produce exporters who ship more than $700 million annually to the U.S.

Rothschild and Romero briefed Sinaloa officials on the ongoing improvements to Highway 15, which leads north to Nogales and the overhaul at the Mariposa Port of Entry. “Re-establishing and reigniting those relationships is important,” Rothschild said.

Romero agreed and said Arizona business and political leaders need to do a better job of making travel through our state attractive to Mexican businesses.

“It’s very tempting for them to use Texas as an entry to the East Coast markets,” she said.

The duo were joined on the Sinaloa trip by representatives from the city’s economic development office, Visit Tucson and the University of Arizona.

Contact reporter Gabriela Rico at grico@azstarnet.com