The Mexican government will send an array of officials to the US to meet with members of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) with the objective of recovering the Category 1 status after it was downgraded in May 2021. Being downgraded to Category 2 profoundly impacts the Mexican airline industry, with carriers such as Aeromexico, Viva Aerobus, and Volaris unable to add new routes and capacity in commercial flights to the United States.
Is Mexico recovering its Category 1 status?
This week, the Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador said that a team led by a member of the country’s Infrastructure, Communications, and Transport Secretariat, will travel to Washington and meet with FAA officials. He added that significant progress has been made concerning solving the issues identified in the International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) process in 2021.
“We are making great progress. They are going to travel this weekend to Washington because there’s a meeting in the United States where they will attempt to regain the highest category,” Mr. López Obrador added while speaking to the media.
On May 25, 2021, the FAA announced that the Mexican government does not meet the safety standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Based on a reassessment of Mexico’s civil aviation authority, the FAA downgraded Mexico’s rating to Category 2 from Category 1. This rating allows Mexican air carriers to continue existing service to the United States, but it prohibits any new service and routes. US airlines can’t market and sell tickets with their names and designator codes on Mexican-operated flights. After the degradation, the FAA increased its scrutiny of Mexican airline flights to the United States.
Photo: Getty Images.
How much progress has actually been achieved?
The progress in regaining Category 1 status in Mexico has been painfully slow, despite the calls made by local airlines that addressing the issue is critical for the future development of the industry.
As reported by local media outlets, it is currently expected that regaining Category 1 status will be delayed until at least March 2023, almost two years after the downgrade. It is not rare for countries to take years before regaining Category 1 status; for instance, Malaysia regained its status in October 2022 after being downgraded in 2019.
But for Mexico, connectivity with the United States is of critical importance. The United States is Mexico’s top commercial partner; the aviation market between both countries is one of the most important worldwide and has fully recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic since last year. Between January and September, 26.17 million passengers traveled between both countries, growing by 25% compared to 2021 levels. And, despite all these good developments, the Mexican government has not recovered Category 1 status.
Photo: Getty Images.
What’s the impact of the downgrade?
During its reassessment from October 2020 to February 2021, the FAA identified several areas of non-compliance with minimum ICAO safety standards. A Category 2 rating means that the country’s laws or regulations lack the necessary requirements to oversee the country’s air carriers following minimum international safety standards, or the civil aviation authority is lacking in one or more areas such as technical expertise, trained personnel, record keeping, inspection procedures, or the resolution of safety concerns.
Mexican airlines can’t add new routes or aircraft in routes to the United States. For instance, Viva Aerobus has said it had to temporarily suspend the launch of seven new routes to this country. The three leading Mexican carriers have had to find ways to allocate new capacity (they are receiving new aircraft from Boeing and Airbus) in different routes.
In September, a local think tank reported that local carriers had lost around 9.2 billion pesos (US$460 million) in sales and carried 2.3 million fewer passengers due to the downgrade.
When do you expect Mexico to regain its Category 1 status? Let us know in the comments below.