HomeNewsSonora: Growing Air Corridor for Synthetic Drugs on US-Mexico Border

Sonora: Growing Air Corridor for Synthetic Drugs on US-Mexico Border


Mexican authorities have intercepted a succession of flights carrying synthetic drugs to the northern state of Sonora, with the state acquiring greater importance as a smuggling corridor to the United States.

On April 8, the Mexican Army and Air Force forced an unknown aircraft to divert course and seized the over 370 kilograms of drugs it hurriedly dropped off, including 276 kilograms of methamphetamine and 49 kilograms of fentanyl, according to a Defense Ministry press release.

Months earlier, on January 24, authorities made a remarkably similar interdiction when a plane from Sinaloa’s state capital of Culiacán was chased down. Upon its landing in the Sonoran municipality of Puerto Peñasco, authorities found 39 kilograms of methamphetamine and 65 kilograms of fentanyl, among other drugs.

SEE ALSO: Synthetic Drugs Flood California Crossing of US-Mexico Border

About a week before that, on January 15, another clandestine aircraft was harried into touching down at Puerto Peñasco. It was transporting 433 kilograms of methamphetamine and 29 kilograms of fentanyl. Significant plane seizures of synthetic drugs also occurred throughout 2021 in Sonora.

However, aerial trafficking has not entirely displaced other smuggling methodologies in Sonora. In March, Mexican authorities seized a yet-to-be-transported drug shipment allegedly belonging to the Sinaloa Cartel, securing nearly 1.9 metric tons of methamphetamine and 57 kilograms of fentanyl.

InSight Crime Analysis

Sonora’s role in the synthetic drug trade is defined by its geography: on the west, it receives Asian chemical precursors from its port of Guaymas, on the south, it abuts Mexico’s primary synthetic drug producer of Sinaloa, and on the north, it borders the US state of Arizona.

As such, “Sonora has always been a key port of entry,” said Cecilia Farfán-Méndez, an organized crime expert and the head of Security Research Programs at the Center for US-Mexican Studies at the University of California, San Diego.

“[Nowadays], private small aircraft have increasingly become an area of concern for the movement of drugs [north],” she told InSight Crime.

SEE ALSO: The Three Criminal Fronts Sparking Violence in Sonora, Mexico

Interestingly, in recent years it has been Sonora’s neighbor of Baja California that has emerged as the Mexican synthetic drug superhighway. Methamphetamine and fentanyl interdicted at US border crossings have been overwhelmingly concentrated between and at Californian ports of entry, according to US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) seizure data.

Yet Sonora’s share of the traffic appears to be increasing. In 2019, Mexican media were already reporting on the growing presence of synthetic drug flows. Since then, CBP data shows a noticeable increase in fentanyl seizures on the US border with Sonora – more so than other border states.

The recent spate of drug flights point to the same conclusion, particularly given the Defense Ministry has only reported one similar seizure in Baja California since January 2021 despite the Ministry’s radars theoretically covering both state’s airspaces equally.

One confounding factor that may mask Sonora’s level of increased importance is also that synthetic drug loads in Sonora are at times trafficked to Baja California for onward smuggling into the United States, according to Mexican authorities, but rarely the other way around. In these cases, border seizure data listing a Californian interdiction does not register its Sonoran transit, thus artificially downplaying the latter’s share of the traffic.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


Related Content

COCAINE / 25 DEC 2020

As another Christmas passes us by, drug traffickers have been embracing the season to be jolly with open arms once…

COLOMBIA / 12 NOV 2020

This project began 10 years ago as an effort to address a problem: the lack of daily coverage, investigative stories…

HONDURAS / 11 NOV 2021

Honduras has seen a surge in marijuana seizures and plantations, indicating a booming trade in illegal cannabis that stands to…

About InSight Crime


Extensive Coverage of our Chronicles of a Cartel Bodyguard

23 SEP 2022

Our recent investigation, A Cartel Bodyguard in Mexico’s 'Hot Land', has received extensive media coverage.


InSight Crime, American University Host Illegal Fishing Panel

19 SEP 2022

InSight Crime and the Center for Latin American & Latino Studies (CLALS) at American University discussed the findings of a joint investigation on IUU fishing at a September 9 conference.


Impact on the Media Landscape

9 SEP 2022

InSight Crime’s first investigation on the Dominican Republic made an immediate impact on the Dominican media landscape, with major news outlets republishing and reprinting our findings, including in …


InSight Crime Sharpens Its Skills

2 SEP 2022

Last week, the InSight Crime team gathered for our annual retreat in Colombia, where we discussed our vision and strategy for the next 12 months.  During the week, we also learned how to…


Colombia’s Fragile Path to Peace Begins to Take Shape

26 AUG 2022

InSight Crime is charting the progress of President Gustavo Petro’s agenda as he looks to revolutionize Colombia’s security policy, opening dialogue with guerrillas, reforming the military and police, and…