U.S. prepares to downgrade Mexico air security ranking

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An Aeromexico plane is pictured on the runway at Benito Juarez International Airport in Mexico City, Mexico, on April 21, 2021.

Edgard Garrido | Reuters

The US government is preparing to downgrade the flight safety rating in Mexico. This would prevent Mexican airlines from adding new US flights and restrict the airlines’ ability to conduct marketing agreements.

The proposed move by the Federal Aviation Administration is expected to be announced in the coming days and follows an in-depth review of Mexican aviation regulation by the agency.

Sources briefed on the matter on condition of anonymity said the FAA had long discussions with Mexican aviation regulators about their concerns. The sources said these concerns had not all been addressed following an assessment in the country.

The sources added that Mexican government officials were briefed on the proposed action and raised concerns.

An aviation industry source said the FAA’s concerns were not about flight safety issues, but about Mexico’s oversight of airlines.

Downgrading Mexico from Category 1 to Category 2 would mean that the current US service of Mexican airlines would not be affected, but they would not be able to start new flights and airline-to-airline marketing practices such as selling seats on each other’s flights in the frame restricted by code share agreements.

The move would mean that the FAA has determined that Mexico’s safety assessment program does not meet the safety standards of the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Mexico was a top vacation spot for U.S. travelers during the Covid-19 pandemic, prompting U.S. airlines to divert capacity that had previously flown to Europe before transatlantic travel restrictions were introduced last year.

In April, Mexico was by far the busiest international destination, with almost 2.3 million passengers on flights between the United States and Mexico. According to the industry, that is more than three times that of the Dominican Republic, the next highest country.

An FAA spokesman declined to comment.

The Mexican Ministry of Communications and Transportation did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Delta Air Lines, which has a codeshare agreement with Aeromexico, is required to reissue some passengers booked on Aeromexico flights due to the downgrade.

Delta and Aeromexico declined to comment.

Delta and Aeromexico, joint venture partners since 2017, together offer around 3,900 cross-border flights in June, more than any other airline, according to global data aviation company Cirium. Delta owns 49% of Aeromexico but posted a $ 770 million charge on its investment after the carrier filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year.

Carlos Ozores, aviation advisor at global consulting and digital services company ICF, said the move could impact Codeshares between Delta and Aeromexico, which will drive revenue and force a growth-driven low-cost airline Volaris Rethink plans to expand into the United States.

This wouldn’t be the first time the FAA has downgraded Mexico’s aviation safety rating. In 2010, the agency downgraded Mexico to Category 2 due to suspected deficiencies within its civil aviation authority and restored its top rating about four months later.

The FAA has stated that downgrades mean an aviation authority is deficient in areas such as technical expertise, trained personnel, records, and inspection procedures. The Mexican authorities said in 2010 that flight safety had not deteriorated and that the downgrade was due to a lack of flight inspectors.

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