In-Depth: What Mexico's downgraded air-safety rating means for flights

Restriction on new flights
Posted at 7:07 PM, May 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-27 22:31:35-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- The Federal Aviation Administration says it will increase scrutiny on Mexican airlines after U.S. regulators downgraded Mexico’s air-safety rating.

So what does that mean for consumers who fly out of Lindbergh Field and people who use the Cross-Border Xpress to the Tijuana Airport?

The FAA’s announcement means Mexican airlines operating to and from the U.S. can continue operating their current flights, but they cannot add new flights or routes at a time when air travel is beginning to recover from the pandemic.

Supply and demand factors could push the price of international flights to Mexico up, experts said.

The FAA’s restriction on new flights only affects Mexican airlines that enter or leave the U.S. Flights out of Tijuana to locations within Mexico will not be impacted.

What’s the safety issue in Mexico?

The FAA said it suited the Mexican government agency that oversees flights from October 2020 to February 2021 and found “several areas of non-compliance with minimum [international] safety standards.”

U.S. regulators did not provide specifics in a statement, but said the issues were with government oversight and could broadly involve the training, record keeping, and technical expertise of inspectors.

“They're either not overseeing the airlines as much as they should, or maybe they're lacking specific qualifications in people who do those oversights,” said Ed Coleman, a professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and the director of the school’s Robertson Safety Institute.

“That's typically what you see,” he added. “To have people that will leave and then they can't get the expertise to come back in to manage the system as it should be.”

After the downgrade, Mexico’s Communications and Transport Department suggested the compliance issues had to do with staffing at the country’s equivalent of the FAA, the Agencia Federal de Aviacion Civil (AFAC).

“The [U.S.] review was carried out in October, when the AFAC was operating with one-fourth of its personnel, and amid a significant surge in the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Transportes wrote in a statement.

The change moves Mexico from the premier Category 1 safety rating to Category 2, with the likes of Venezuela, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Mexico said it will hire and train 280 inspectors in response to the audit, and the FAA pledged to help the country recover its Category 1 status.

“I think this could be a short term thing,” Coleman said. “Most of the countries that end up in that category try to get off of it as quickly as they can.”

The U.S. previously downgraded Mexico’s air-safety rating in 2010, citing issues with lax oversight. Mexico was able to restore its status back to Category 1 in four months after taking steps to address the regulatory concerns.