Passenger congestion at the Mexico City International Airport (AICM). Photo: Google

By MARK LORENZANA

Several experts in the Mexican aviation industry on Tuesday, July 26, expressed concern for the continued deterioration of the Mexico City International Airport (AICM), as another aviation analyst lamented the U.S. downgrade of Mexico’s air safety rating in 2021, which he believed does not bode well for the country’s airline industry in the long term.

Aviation analyst Juan Antonio José said that the deterioration of the AICM — especially in light of the recent closure of one of its runways to repair a pothole due to gravel detachment, which led to flight delays and cancellations on Sunday, July 24 — shows the lack of resources that should be poured into key infrastructure of the airport.

The analyst said that the appearance of potholes on the AICM’s runways is a sign of budget cuts, which has further deteriorated the main international airport serving the greater Mexico City area.

“The appearance of a pothole is a major safety issue that hinders a runway from operating safely,” José said. “A pothole with loose gravel, for example, can cause aircraft turbines to suck in the gravel, damaging them.”

Gabriel Rojas, another aviation specialist, said that regular maintenance of the runways should be carried out to avoid potholes, and that the apparent lack of maintenance could be attributed to federal budget cuts.

“In the rainy season that we are experiencing now, it’s imperative that this type of maintenance and review should be carried out on the runways,” Rojas said. “But they are not being carried out, and it is due to the lack of budget.”

According to information obtained by Mexican daily newspaper El Universal, a rehabilitation program for the AICM has been planned as early as the beginning of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (AMLO) term. But up until March of this year, not a single peso has been spent for the aforementioned AICM rehabilitation, and with zero percent progress on the actual project.

A cost-benefit analysis of the rehabilitation program dated Nov. 21, 2021, stated that the project should have been completed last year, with a total estimated cost of 38 million pesos.

For his part, aviation analyst Fernando Gómez said that the decision by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to downgrade Mexico’s air safety rating in May of last year will negatively affect the country’s aviation industry in the long run.

The FAA downgraded Mexico last year from Category 1 — which signifies compliance with international standards — to Category 2, the lowest level. The downgrade has prevented Mexican carriers from adding new U.S. flights and has limited the ability of airlines to carry out marketing agreements with each another.

“Because of the downgrade, the European Union, Canada and Colombia could request additional evaluations,” Gómez said. “There is a risk that Mexican airlines could remain as domestic or regional niches in Central and South America, in the long term due to market loss.”

Gómez said he believes that the Felipe Ángeles International Airport (AIFA) in Santa Lucia — one of the controversial pet megaprojects of López Obrador — has added to the problem.

“Instead of the government working hard to regain a Category 1 rating for Mexico’s air safety, it has prioritized the Santa Lucia Airport,” Gómez said.

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