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Recovery of air safety rating now a binational priority for US and Mexico

Aviation authorities from both countries met Friday to map out the last leg in Mexico’s return to the FAA’s top safety rating, revealing a shift in how the governments are tackling the problem.

MEXICO CITY (CN) — Although Mexico’s recovery of the Federal Aviation Administration’s top safety rating remains several months away, the issue has become a “binational priority” for both countries, according to Mexican transportation authorities. 

During a meeting at FAA headquarters in Washington, D.C., Friday, aviation authorities from both countries mapped out what they said is the home stretch of Mexico’s long awaited return to the FAA’s Category 1 safety rating. 

“The quick recovery of Mexico’s Category 1 status is a priority for the governments of Mexico and the United States, with the purpose of guaranteeing the air safety of 30 million passengers,” Mexico’s Secretariat of Infrastructure, Communication and Transportation (SICT) said in a statement issued after the meeting. 

The road map to recovery includes two significant dates in the months ahead. Firstly, the SICT and the FAA pledged to conclude a corrective action plan for Mexico’s aviation sector by December “at the latest.”

The press release also states that acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen agreed to visit Mexico in January with his team to present the conclusions of the action plan and to set date for the final audit “before the summer” of 2023. 

Authorities from Mexico’s civil aviation authority AFAC told the FAA that the agency is working on a draft amendment to its establishing decree with the purpose of “strengthening the agency and implementing regulatory requirements.” It plans on issuing that amendment in December as well. 

AFAC authorities said that the agency has made changes that have allowed it to “strengthen its salary rubrics, education and training, and supervision of personnel,” according to the press release. The Mexican government is also looking for a permanent solution to provide the AFAC with “sufficient and sustainable resources so that it has the full capacity to fulfill all of its functions and responsibilities established in international air regulations.”

The FAA does not comment on the specifics of ongoing cases, but told Courthouse News in an emailed statement: “We continue to provide assistance to Mexico’s civil aviation authority.”

The FAA downgraded Mexico to its lowest safety rating — Category 2 — in May 2021 on the grounds that its civil aviation authority did not meet international safety standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization. 

While it did not release any specific reasons for the downgrade, a report of an FAA technical review visit conducted in June of this year viewed by Courthouse News revealed non-conformances with airworthiness of aircraft, aviation legislation and personnel training and qualification, among other issues. 

Mexico is the top foreign destination for U.S. tourists, according to the U.S. National Travel and Tourism Office. Over 39 million U.S. tourists visited Mexico in 2019.

Although Friday’s press release reveals many more months ahead on Mexico’s journey back to Category 1, the meeting showed significant results in terms of the importance the issue has now taken on in both governments, according to Rogelio Rodríguez, an aviation lawyer and former executive in the AFAC’s precursor agency. 

“This shows that there has been an attitude change,” said Rodríguez in a phone interview. What was lacking before, he said, was the political will to resolve the matter. 

“It has finally risen up to political importance in both countries, and I think we can now say with more certainty that Mexico will return to Category 1 in seven or eight months,” he said. "Nothing in life is a sure thing, but I'd say the chances that this timeline is correct are around 97%, because now there's the will to get it done."

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