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Members of the Aviation Pilots Union Association of Mexico (ASPA) demonstrated outside the National Palace in Mexico City on Tuesday, Jan. 31, projecting the hashtag #NoalCABOTAJE on the building’s façade.

The group was protesting against the reform proposed by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) to allow air cabotage in the country.

Cabotage comes from the French word “caboter,” and is an aviation term that refers to the authorization of foreign airlines to fly national routes. On Dec. 15 of last year, López Obrador sent an initiative to the Mexican Chamber of Deputies that seeks to allow international airlines to operate in the domestic market.

AMLO’s proposal would allow foreign airlines to fly from their country of origin to Mexico and, once in national territory, fly between two cities — national routes that are originally reserved for Mexican airlines.

In short, if the proposal is approved, foreign airlines would be allowed to fly domestic routes: For example, an Aerolíneas Argentinas aircraft flying from Buenos Aires to Mexico City, and from there the flight could take passengers to Hermosillo, Sonora.

The ASPA members said that the reforms to Mexico’s Civil Aviation Law will not help Mexico recover its previous category 1 ranking in aviation safety — which was downgraded to category 2 in May of 2021 by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) — and that they could instead affect 1.4 million jobs in the industry, which contributes 3.5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), representing about $38 billion.

During the demonstration on Tuesday, ASPA president Ángel Domínguez Catzín, appealed to the three branches of government. “If we want to talk about a true transformation, we need to do it with direction and meaning for our country,” he said.

Meanwhile, members of the College of Aviator Pilots of Mexico (CPAM), who also joined the protest, warned that the participation of foreign companies in domestic routes could likewise add more risks, due to the lack of surveillance technology and aviation infrastructure in the country.

For his part, ASPA general secretary José Humberto Gual Ángeles, direct descendant of General Felipe Ángeles — for whom the newly constructed Felipe Ángeles International Airport (AIFA) was named in his honor — said he believes AMLO’s decision is “ill-informed” and likened “giving away air sovereignty” to the decision of former Mexican President Antonio López de Santa Anna “when he gave away half of the national territory.”

“Throughout history we have defended national sovereignty. That of the subsoil through lithium, energy sovereignty, the sovereignty of the miners, maritime sovereignty, and today we want to give away air sovereignty,” said Gual Ángeles.

Gual Ángeles said that López Obrador’s argument that this measure would lower the price of plane tickets is wrong, and that the consequence of cabotage will be the disappearance of national airlines such as Aeroméxico, Volaris and Viva Aerobús, as they cannot compete with fleets as large as the ones from the United States, Europe or Asia.

“It can generate a real catastrophe. And then we are going to be paying taxes to build ports and airports, so that foreigners can come to occupy them and take the profits. We are in a contradiction. On the one hand, we promote nationalism, and on the other — like Santa Anna — we give away.”

López Obrador promoted his reform to allow cabotage after criticizing domestic airlines for high prices, and for allegedly not covering all domestic routes within Mexico.

On Dec. 5, AMLO announced that he would allow foreign companies to operate nationally, and warned that the government airline run by the Army would come into operation within a year.

On the afternoon of Wednesday, Feb. 1, National Action Party (PAN) Deputy Santiago Creel Miranda expressed his support for the aviation groups protesting López Obrador’s initiative, saying that “Mexican airspace is not for sale; we should defend it.”

“I want, as a federal deputy, to give the broadest support, both to the ASPA and to the president of the College of Aviator Pilots, so that you know that in this chamber there are many deputies who are against selling Mexican skies. Mexican airspace is not for sale; we should defend it — for the pilots, for the airlines of this country and for the Mexican people,” said Creel Miranda, during a press conference at the San Lázaro Legislative Palace, which houses the nation’s lower House of Deputies.

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