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An Aeromexico 737-800 departs from LAX (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

Reports Suggest FAA to Downgrade Mexico Air Safety Rating

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) intends to downgrade Mexico’s air safety rating in the coming days, hindering the U.S.-Mexico aviation market. The move will see the country’s safety rating drop from a Category I rating to a Category II rating, according to Reuters. 

With a Category I rating, flights and codeshare agreements are unrestricted between the countries. However, a Category II rating means that Mexican-based airlines would be prohibited from adding additional flights to the U.S. and have limited abilities to codeshare with U.S.-based airlines. Current services between the countries would remain unaffected, and U.S. airlines would be free to add flights.

The move signals that the FAA believes that Mexico has violated International Civil Aviation Organization safety standards. According to Reuters’ source, the downgrade was caused by Mexico’s oversight of airlines, rather than flight safety issues. Sources briefed on the matter state that the FAA has had lengthy discussions with Mexican aviation authorities, but found its concerns were not properly addressed after an in-country assessment.

It is unknown how long the issue will take to resolve, but diplomatic pressure and pressure from Mexico’s airlines will push for a speedy process to raise the air safety rating back to Category I.

This downgrade isn’t the first time Mexico’s air safety rating has been set to Category II. In 2010, the FAA lowered Mexico’s air safety rating, following safety oversight concerns. Mexican officials claimed that the issue was only due to a shortage of flight inspectors. The issue was rectified four months later, leading to the upgrade back to a Category I rating. In recent years, other countries were demoted to a Category II such as India and Thailand in 2014 and 2015, respectively. 

The Impact

Primarily, Aeromexico and Delta Air Lines will feel the brunt of the effects. Both airlines are in a joint venture agreement, codesharing on 3,400 transborder flights in June, according to Cirium. With restrictions on codeshares, passengers on Aeromexico flights with a Delta Airlines code will need to rebook their flights. Additionally, the codeshare agreement between Frontier and Volaris could be similarly affected.

Meanwhile, Mexican carriers that want to take advantage of growing leisure travel demand between the two countries will be restricted to their current route networks. This includes some of the largest low-cost carriers in Mexico, Volaris and VivaAerobus, which have seen their route networks grow amid the pandemic. For example, VivaAerobus was very aggressive with its US-Mexico expansion plans within the last year, like adding flights from Austin to Mexico City from June 20, among other routes. Additionally, flag carrier Aeromexico plans to relaunch flights to Dallas and Austin by July.

The Mexico to U.S. market is the largest international market for air travel in the world, with 2.3 million passengers making the journey in April 2021. According to Airlines for America, the number of passengers in April 2021 that traveled to Mexico was down by only 16% from April 2019. 

Many U.S.-based airlines have expanded their offerings to Mexico due to high leisure demand and its lack of restrictions. For example, American Airlines is banking on the high demand to beach destinations like Cancun, scheduling widebodies on its flights to Dallas. Other carriers are simply resuming flights like United Airlines, which is resuming flights from Houston to Yucatan, a state in Mexico.

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