U.S. downgrades Mexico air safety rating, offers assistance


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WASHINGTON — The United States on Tuesday downgraded Mexico’s aviation safety rating, an action that bars Mexican carriers from adding new U.S. flights and limits the ability of airlines to carry out marketing agreements with one another.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, in announcing the action, said it is “fully committed to helping the Mexican aviation authority improve its safety oversight system to a level that meets” international standards. The agency also said it is “ready to provide expertise and resources” to resolve issues raised in the safety assessment process.

The FAA downgraded Mexico – the most common destination for U.S. air travelers last month – from a level called Category 1, which signifies compliance with international standards, to Category 2, the lowest level.

That rating, according to the FAA, means Mexico lacks “necessary requirements to oversee the country’s air carriers in accordance with minimum international safety standards, or the civil aviation authority is lacking in one or more areas such as technical expertise, trained personnel, record keeping, inspection procedures or resolution of safety concerns.”

The FAA action sent shares in Mexican airlines down.

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A similar FAA downgrade of Mexico in 2010 over suspected shortcomings within its civil aviation authority lasted about four months. Only a few countries currently are rated Category 2 by the FAA, including Bangladesh, Pakistan, Thailand and Malaysia.

Plans for the FAA downgrade were first reported on Friday by Reuters.

The FAA said its reassessment of the Agencia Federal de Aviacion Civil from October 2020 through February identified several areas of non-compliance with minimum international safety standards.

The Mexican government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Monday had urged U.S. authorities not to downgrade Mexico, arguing that his country was complying with all relevant norms.

The downgrade means current U.S. service by Mexican carriers is unaffected, but they cannot begin new flights. U.S. airlines also will no longer be able to market and sell tickets with their names and designator codes on Mexican-operated flights and the FAA will increase scrutiny of Mexican airline flights to the United States.

Mexico has been a top vacation spot for U.S. travelers during the COVID-19 pandemic, spurring U.S. airlines to redirect capacity they had previously flown to Europe before transatlantic travel restrictions were imposed last year.

Mexico was the by far the busiest foreign air destination in April – with nearly 2.3 million passengers on U.S.-Mexico flights – more than three times that of the Dominican Republic, the next most-popular country destination, according to industry data.

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Delta Air Lines said on Tuesday an FAA downgrade was not about its partner Aeromexico and that the action will have little impact on customers.

Delta said it will need to reissue reservations for some Aeromexico operated flights that were booked through Delta.

“This is not about Aeromexico. This is about the Mexican version of the FAA not having some of the right protocols in place,” Delta president Glen Hauenstein said at a Wolfe Research conference.

Delta has a codeshare arrangement with Aeromexico enabling the two air carriers to sell seats on each other’s flights. Delta will be forced to remove its codes on Aeromexico flights following the downgrade, though Aeromexico could continue to code on Delta flights and members of Delta’s loyalty program could still receive SkyMiles on Aeromexico flights that would normally carry the code, Hauenstein added.

Pablo Casas, general director of the National Institute of Legal-Aeronautical Research think tank, said the downgrade could impact the Mexican economy and carriers trying to recover from the business effects of the pandemic.

(Reporting by David Shepardson and Tracy Rucinski; additional reporting by Noe Torres in Mexico City Editing by Will Dunham, Howard Goller and David Gregorio)

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In-depth reporting on the innovation economy from The Logic, brought to you in partnership with the Financial Post.

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