FAA Announces Downgrade Of Mexico’s Safety Rating

Aeromexico Boeing 737-800
Credit: Joe Pries

WASHINGTON—The FAA on May 25 formally announced its downgrade of Mexico under the International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) to Category 2 following an audit completed earlier in 2021. 

The FAA’s decision, made weeks ago and first reported by The Wall Street Journal, does not affect existing service, including authorizing flying that is not being done, between Mexico and the U.S. It does prevent Mexican carriers from adding frequencies and routes beyond what has been approved. The decision also prevents equipment changes, such as swapping in larger aircraft. 

In addition, the FAA will increase its surveillance of Mexican carriers until Mexico is re-assessed and moved back into Category 1.

“During its reassessment of the Agencia Federal de Aviacion Civil (AFAC) from October 2020 to February 2021, the FAA identified several areas of non-compliance with minimum ICAO safety standards,” the U.S. agency said. It did not provide details of its findings.  

The downgrade requires U.S. carriers to remove their codes from Mexican-operated flights. While affected U.S. carriers see the situation as a headache, it is neither a major operational disruption nor a reflection on their partners’ safety.

“Will be forced to remove our codes on [joint venture partner] Aeromexico flights,” Delta President Glen Hauenstein said during the Wolfe Research investor event May 25.

“This is not about Aeromexico,” Hauenstein added. “This is about [AFAC] not having some of the right protocols in place. We have no issues with the safety of Aeromexico itself.”

Current schedules show Delta Air Lines, with 11.8%, and Aeromexico, with 7.6%, combining to offer nearly 20% of the seats in the U.S.-Mexico market, an Aviation Week CAPA analysis using OAG data shows. American Airlines has the largest share, at 19.8%, followed by United Airlines at 16.8%. Volaris has the biggest share among Mexican carriers, at 14.4%, followed by Viva Aerobus, at 8.3%.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador criticized the FAA’s findings, accusing the U.S. agency of favoritism.

“We feel that this decision should not be carried out, because we’re up to date,” Obrador said during a May 24 press briefing. “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.”

The FAA launched IASA in 1992 to evaluate another country’s civil aviation oversight of its air carriers that operate, or seek to operate, into the U.S., or codeshare with a U.S. air carrier. IASA audits focus on civil aviation agencies exclusively and are based on ICAO standards that countries have agreed to follow. Countries are placed in either Category 1, which signifies compliance with ICAO standards, or Category 2, which means deficiencies were found.

The audits follow a standardized checklist that divides items into eight elements: aviation legislation; operating regulations; organization structure and safety oversight functions; technical staff qualification and training; technical guidance; certification personnel and procedures; surveillance obligations; and resolution of safety issues. Non-compliance in any single element subjects a country to a Category 2 rating.  

The agency maintains ratings for carriers serving the U.S. directly or via a codeshare deal with a U.S. carrier. FAA currently has 86 countries and entities rated, with nine of them in Category 2.

Sean Broderick

Senior Air Transport & Safety Editor Sean Broderick covers aviation safety, MRO, and the airline business from Aviation Week Network's Washington, D.C. office.

Lori Ranson

Lori covers North American and Latin airlines for Aviation Week and is also a Senior Analyst for CAPA - Centre for Aviation.