Latin America’s buoyant aviation sector is in danger of being stymied by inadequate investment and ineffective regulation, argued the head of the region’s chief trade group during its annual leaders forum this week in Rio de Janeiro.

Roberto Kriete, AviancaTaca’s president and the top executive at the Latin American and Caribbean Air Transport Association (ALTA), warned that failed government policies are already stifling development and favoring the award of “high value privatization contracts, rather than efficient airport operations,” in countries such as Brazil, and that without improved transparency “the same mistakes” will continue to occur.

He also noted that the region’s fragmented regulatory environment, especially on technical issues, “translates into major costs that put the region at a disadvantage versus the carriers in the U.S. or Europe,” and restrictions on transborder recruitment allow Middle Eastern carriers to attract pilots from a region already experiencing shortages.

“Unreasonably high fuel costs, monopolistic practices and restrictions on foreign investment have cost and will continue to cost the industry millions of dollars each year,” adds ALTA’s president.

But there are other issues that need to be addressed by Latin America’s airline industry even as it celebrates a boom in air travel, and safety is of particular concern. In recent years, Latin America’s safety record has improved, with no hull losses recorded in 2009, but last year that rate was three times the global average. To tackle this, ALTA has teamed with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to form a “trend sharing program,” dubbed AITSP, to “analyze, track and improve safety risks in the region while focusing resources on the key areas of concern.”

“Our goal is for Latin American and Caribbean carriers to match or surpass the safety record of the U.S. by 2014,” said ALTA Executive Director Alex de Gunten.

Tony Tyler, IATA’s director general and CEO, added, “This agreement is the first of its kind between IATA and a regional association and reflects our shared responsibility on aviation’s top priority: safety. Data is an important tool to focus our efforts in areas that matter most. Including all ALTA members in the Global Safety Information Centre (GSIC) will add an important dimension to our data collection. ”