Photo: Viva Aerobus

By THE PULSE NEWS MEXICO STAFF

Over the course of the last 12 months since the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) downgraded Mexico’s safety aviation ranking from category 1 to category 2, 2021, Mexican airlines have lost almost $5 billion pesos, according to industry sources.

On May 25, 2021, the FAA downgraded Mexico’s aviation security category because of  deficiencies in 28 categories, including personnel training, verification procedures, safety oversight, inspection procedures and staff salaries, which the country’s Federal Civil Aviation Agency (AFAC) then said it would fix within four months.

However, the AFAC has not yet been able to comply with the FAA demands for safer operations and the country’s ranking has remained at category 2, meaning that Mexican airlines are not allowed to expand flights to the United States, and their existing flights are subject to additional checks.

As a result, Fernando Gómez, an aeronautical sector analyst, crunched the numbers and calculated that in one year Mexican airlines have lost revenues of approximately 5 billion pesos (almost $242 million), resources that could have been earned if the companies had been able to increase flights to and from the United States.

René Armas Maes, commercial vice president and aeronautical consultant of Jet Link International LLC, reached a similar conclusion, calculating that national airlines lost about 4 billion pesos (about $200 million dollars) due to the downgrade.

In the first quarter of this year, he noted, one out of every four passengers between the United States and Mexico were transported by Mexican airlines, while before the FAA lowered Mexico’s rating, one out of every three travelers used Mexican airlines.

“If Mexican airlines had maintained the ratio of one to three during the first quarter of 2022, they would have received the additional income of 700,000 passengers. Assuming an average fee of $275 per passenger, that’s close to $200 million of lost revenue,” he said.

Since May of last year until the first quarter of this year, the National Chamber of Air Transport (Canaero) calculated that the Mexican airlines have lost 14 percent of the passengers traveling to and from the United States, while that same percentage has been absorbed by U.S. carriers.

This was not the first time that Mexico had fallen to category 2: Just over a decade ago, the FAA also downgraded Mexico’s air safety, although only for four months.

At that time, the country’s airline industry suffered a quantified impact of $3.21 billion, according to the FAA.

The Mexican airlines most affected by the current downgrade are Volaris and Viva Aerobus, both of which had hoped to expand their routes to the United States.

Last week, Volaris announced its intention to establish a route between the newly opened but scarcely used Felipe Angeles International Airport (AIFA) and Los Angeles, California in December.

But without an FAA upgrade, Volaris cannot establish the new route.

The same holds true in the case of Viva Aerobus, which is in the process of establishing an alliance  with Allegiant and which wants to open new flights to the United States.

“As we are in category 2, the airlines cannot start routes abroad,” explained Viva Aerobus director Juan Carlos Zuazua.

“The United States will be an important market for us when we are in category 1, which we hope will be soon. We will explore routes from Saint Lucia to the United States, and also to South America.”

But one year after the downgrade, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the International Federation of Air Line Pilots Associations have denounced “worrying situations” in Mexico airspace, which was redesigned a year ago to accommodate the AIFA and has led to more than a dozen near-miss accidents.

Consequently, the IATA said that Mexico’s recovery of category 1 status will take at least another 18 months and is less likely to be granted now than it was a year ago.

Meanwhile, Mexican Undersecretary of Transportation Rogelio Jiménez Pons said Monday, May 16, that he expected that Mexico’s air safety upgrade back to category 1 will be resolved between September and November of this year.

Jiménez Pons said that FAA inspectors are due to begin an audit of Mexican air safety during the third week of May.

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