FAA downgrades Mexico civil aviation authority's safety rating

The FAA has downgraded the safety rating of Mexico’s civil aviation authority, a move that blocks Mexican airlines from beginning new U.S. routes or adding service on existing routes. 

Mexican carriers can, however, continue existing U.S. service. 

The downgrade will have the largest impact on Aeromexico and Mexican budget carrier Volaris. But it would also have a substantial impact on Delta, a 49% owner of Aeromexico that partners with the carrier on a U.S-Mexico joint venture alliance and also codeshares with Aeromexico. 

Speaking at the Wolfe Research Transportation and Industrials Conference Tuesday, Delta president Glen Hauenstein said the carrier can’t codeshare on Aeromexico flights as long as Mexico’s Agencia Federal de Aviacion Civil has Category 2 status, though Aeromexico can continue to place its code on Delta flights. He said Delta would nevertheless award SkyMiles to customers flying Aeromexico on flights that had been Delta codeshares. 

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“We believe that Aeromexico is incredibly safe,” Hauenstein said. “This is not about Aeromexico. It is about the Mexican version of the FAA not having some of the right protocols in place.” 

The FAA downgrades the safety ratings of foreign civil aviation authorities to Category 2 when that entity fails to comply with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards. Generally, a downgrade means that the country in question either lacks laws or regulations necessary to oversee air carriers, or its civil aviation authority is deficient in one or more areas, such as technical expertise, trained personnel, record-keeping or inspection procedures.

The FAA didn’t detail the deficiencies it found during an October through February reassessment of AFAC. 

“The FAA is fully committed to helping the Mexican aviation authority improve its safety oversight system to a level that meets ICAO standards” the agency said. “To achieve this, the FAA is ready to provide expertise and resources in support of AFAC’s ongoing efforts to resolve the issues identified.”

Mexico, with its relaxed Covid-19 entry rules, has been the leading foreign destination for U.S. visitors during the pandemic. From June through August, airlines are scheduled to fly 2.27 million seats from the U.S. to Mexico, 15.3% fewer than 2019, according to Cirium schedule data. However, some airlines, including Aeromexico, Volaris, Delta and American, have more seats scheduled to Mexico this summer than in 2019. 

Anticipating the FAA downgrade of AFAC during a press conference Monday, Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has already weighed in, saying the move is designed to help U.S. airlines, according to the Hill. 

“We feel that this decision should not be carried out because we’re up to date. It can be proven that there are no pending issues. However, there are interests. Because those who benefit from a move like this are airlines from the United States,” Lopez Obrador said.

The FAA last downgraded Mexico’s aviation safety rating in 2010, but restored it four months later, according to Reuters.

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