Mexico is still at least months away from recovering its Category 1 aviation safety rating with United States aviation authorities after reportedly failing a technical review last week.
The Ministry of Infrastructure, Communications and Transportation (SICT) said in a statement Thursday that the process to regain the top-tier rating Mexico lost in May 2021 is ongoing but predicted it would conclude “in the coming months.”
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has conducted seven reviews of Mexico’s aviation sector since it downgraded the country’s safety rating to Category 2 due to non-compliance with minimum International Civil Aviation Organization safety standards, but it could carry out 10 reviews before deciding whether to restore the Category 1 rating.
When it downgraded Mexico 13 months ago, the U.S. authority said that “a Category 2 rating means that the country’s laws or regulations lack the 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 downgrade prevented Mexican airlines from adding new flights to the United States.
The FAA’s most recent technical review was carried out last week at the request of Mexico’s Federal Civil Aviation Agency (AFAC), SICT said.
“The results of that inspection will be announced in the next 30 days,” the ministry said, adding that the review “served as an analysis prior to the definitive audit that will occur in the coming months.”
SICT said that FAA specialists determined that the problems identified last year had been rectified but raised concerns about “aspects related to aviation legislation, financial resources and budget, hiring of suitable personnel … [and] … the operation of several technical and air inspection systems.”
“The date for the next evaluation with the FAA has not yet been determined, but from the beginning [of the process] a maximum of 10 reviews was established,” the ministry said.
“For SICT the final objective is not just to recover the Category 1 aviation [safety rating], but to provide continuity to the process of administrative, financial and training improvement that guarantees the safety of the millions of Mexicans that use air navigation services both at national and foreign airports.”
While SICT said that the results of the latest review won’t be announced until the end of July, people who spoke with the newspapers Reforma and Milenio asserted that Mexico failed last week’s inspection.
Rogelio Rodríguez, an aviation expert and former executive with AFAC’s predecessor, said that Mexico still hasn’t resolved the issues that led to the downgrade to Category 2, despite SICT’s statement to the contrary. He specifically cited shortcomings in the assessment and training of AFAC personnel.
Rodríguez told Reforma that AFAC wasn’t able to show the FAA that it carries out reviews of its personnel to ensure they are in an “optimal state of psycho-physical health.” In addition, it couldn’t prove that AFAC inspectors have completed adequate training, he said.
“Mexico failed,” Rodríguez said, adding that the process to recover the Category 1 rating is “uncertain” given that “there are no dates or commitments to carry out the technical review again.”
SICT said that AFAC will ask the FAA to conduct a final audit “in due course.”
A federal government official who spoke with Milenio on the condition of anonymity said the FAA detected more than 20 new deficiencies during last week’s review. The official said that 28 previously identified issues have been resolved but a similar number of new problems was found.
“They’re matters of procedures and budgets. What will be put forward [by the FAA] is to fix all that,” the functionary said.
While Mexico apparently failed last week’s review, it hasn’t failed the overall process to regain the Category 1 rating because it has the opportunity to address the newly identified deficiencies in the coming months, the person said. The official asserted that the issues can be resolved “without problems” and predicted that the top-tier rating will be reinstated in November or December.
SICT initially pledged to recover the Category 1 rating within four months of the downgrade, while Foreign Affairs Minister Marcelo Ebrard suggested that it would be regained in the first half of this year.
An anonymous Reforma source who asserted that Mexico failed last week’s review due to staff hiring and training concerns criticized the federal government for a lack of interest in the aviation sector.
“There is no deadline, no timetable [to recover the Category 1 rating], and Mexico is still not ready. The present administration is not interested in aviation … and while this view doesn’t change we’ll continue in this situation,” said the source.
Rodríguez said last month that AFAC hadn’t taken any decisive action that will help Mexico regain its Category 1 rating. No additional resources have been allocated to address the FAA’s concerns, he said, adding that there has been a “chain of systematic failures in the [aviation] sector due to the lack of training of key personnel, such as [air traffic] controllers.”
When raising concerns in early May about safety at the Mexico City airport, the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations said it appeared that air traffic controllers at the AICM had received “little training and support” as to how to direct flights operating in the new airspace configuration precipitated by the opening of the Felipe Ángeles International Airport north of the capital.
The National Air Traffic Controllers Union subsequently acknowledged that its members lacked training. Some currently working at Mexican airports were approved for entry to training courses in 2019 despite failing admission tests, a 2021 audit found.
That revelation, published by Reforma last month, came shortly after two dangerous incidents at the Mexico City International Airport that were caused by air traffic control errors. Pilots of a Volaris plane narrowly averted a disaster May 7 after they were cleared to land on a runway occupied by another aircraft. A similar incident occurred four days later.
President López Obrador on Friday rejected reports that there are unaddressed deficiencies in Mexico’s aviation sector. “A review is being done, all the requirements are being met and I expect there won’t be any problem” in regaining the Category 1 rating,” he said.
“Of course, … there are many interests, starting with those who don’t like us and who are still annoyed because the Lake Texcoco airport wasn’t built. They haven’t got over the anger yet,” López Obrador said.
“… We’re seeking to give responses to all the requests … [the FAA] makes to us,” he said. “Not all international organizations are honest,” the president added. “… In general, the interests of groups, business groups, financial groups, are always there.”