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US cuts Mexico's aviation safety rating, curbing new flights

Airplane flying at sunrise.
Posted at 5:19 PM, May 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-25 17:19:27-04

U.S. regulators have downgraded Mexico's aviation safety rating, a move that prevents Mexican airlines from expanding flights to the United States just as travel is recovering from the pandemic.

The Federal Aviation Administration said Tuesday it downgraded Mexico after finding that the country does not meet standards set by a United Nations aviation group.

The downgrade means that U.S. airlines won't be able to sell tickets on flights operated by Mexican airlines, a setback that will mainly hit Delta Air Lines, which has a partnership with Aeromexico.

Delta said its own service to Mexico is not affected by the downgrade, and it will continue to operate all its flights there normally. Delta might have to issue new tickets, however, to customers who used Delta to book a flight operated by Aeromexico.

Aeromexico said its flights won't be affected, and it will work with Mexican regulators to reverse the downgrade.

"At Aeromexico, safety is our top priority and because of that we will continue to operate under the highest international standards," the airline tweeted.

Mexico has been by far the most popular international destination for Americans during the pandemic. In the first two months of this year, U.S. citizens took more than 800,000 trips to Mexico, accounting for 42% of all foreign air travel by Americans in that period, according to figures from the U.S. Commerce Department.

FAA safety ratings of other countries are designed to measure those countries' oversight of its airlines but do not mean that the airlines are unsafe. The FAA said it will increase scrutiny of Mexican flights to the United States, but the downgrade does not immediately affect current flights.

The FAA decision to lower Mexico from "Category 1" to "Category 2" puts it in a group of countries that includes Bangladesh, Pakistan and Thailand.

The FAA found that Mexico's ability to oversee its airlines falls short of standards set by a U.N. group called the International Civil Aviation Organization. Those standards cover a broad range of issues including the regulator's technical expertise, inspection procedures and record-keeping.

The FAA said it reviewed Mexico's Agencia Federal de Aviacion Civil from October through February and found "several areas" of concern.

Officials at U.S. airlines became aware of the potential downgrade recently, but they held out hope that Mexican authorities and the FAA could resolve their differences. More than a decade ago, the FAA considered downgrading Israel but held back after Israel took steps to reassure the FAA about its oversight of aviation.