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Problems in the airspace will make it difficult for Mexico to recover Category 1

The recent problems in the airspace where the Mexico City International Airport (AICM) and the Felipe Ángeles International Airport (AIFA) coexist aim to harden the conditions for the country to recover Category 1 of air safety, in the straight end of a process that has taken nearly a year since the downgrade by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The downgrade in the International Aviation Safety Assessment Program (IASA) from Category 1 to Category 2 prevents Mexican airlines from opening new routes and adding more aircraft to the United States, which has reduced competitiveness against their US counterparts, which have taken a larger share of the cross-border market, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hence, recovering Category 1 has become a priority. However, in recent weeks two events have put the conditions in which the aviation sector operates in Mexico into the spotlight, which may make it more difficult to counteract the degradation of the FAA, derived from 28 observations in terms of salary, labor and capacity conditions. performance of the Mexican aviation authority, the Federal Civil Aviation Agency (AFAC).

On the one hand, the International Federation of Air Line Pilots Associations (IFALPA, for its acronym in English) warned of the lack of training of Mexican personnel to maneuver in the new Mexican airspace, reconfigured from the entry of the procedures performance -based navigation systems (or PBN) in 2020). Even the National Union of Air Traffic Controllers (Sinacta) revealed that between 2021 and so far this year, there have been around 100 air incidents in the country, of which 30 are serious.

To this was added an approach incident in which Volaris flights were involved, VOC 4069, which was going to take off to Guatemala, and which entered the runway where flight VOI 799, from Mazatlán, Sinaloa, was located. . This even led to the resignation of the director of Navigation Services in the Mexican Air Space (Seneam).

The incidents coincide with several of the observations made by the FAA in an audit carried out between October 2020 and February 2021, in which they warned of safety risks due to the working conditions, salary and training of essential personnel in this work.

For Juan Carlos Machorro, partner of the firm Santamarina + Steta specialized in the aeronautical area, the recent incidents come at an inopportune moment, because according to AFAC itself, the work to resolve the FAA’s observations was in the final stretch until a few years ago. weeks.

“Many of the indications from the FAA to the AFAC in relation to Category 2 had to do with response capabilities in various issues of the Mexican authority,” explains the specialist. “The Volaris event that occurred, and the warning from controllers that there have been more events of this type, is not going to pay for anything so that we can eventually recover Category 1.”

Even the work environment of the controllers is still in the spotlight, especially in the face of warnings from the air traffic controllers union, which accused of “abuses” by the former director of Seneam.

“It must be understood that pilots and controllers depend on emotional stability,” says Pablo Casas Lías, director of the National Institute of Aeronautical Legal Research (INIJA). “They have a great responsibility, but they are poorly paid and with very heavy workloads that imply exhaustion. They have not been given the necessary training, and it can lead to accidents, which are a cluster of these errors.”

Those who have benefited most from Mexico’s Category 2 have been US airlines. Between 2019 and 2021 they went from having between 43% and 46% of the market between Mexico and the United States to almost 60%, with strong growth for airlines such as American Airlines and United Airlines.

Meanwhile, airline plans remain frozen, even in venues such as AIFA, where Volaris announced its intention to operate a flight to Los Angeles by the end of the year, a route that is still subject to Mexico regaining Category 1 status.

“Almost a year has passed since we fell into Category 2. The last time it took four months to return to Category 1. I would not be surprised if it took us six or even 12 more months if the possibility of accepting errors to correct them is not privileged . I am not sure that the American authority is going to buy us the advances with what has happened”, concludes Machorro.

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