Miami – Travelers looking to fly on a Mexican airline might want to think twice, as major news outlets report that the FAA is downgrading the country.

Both CNBC and Reuters report that the FAA is planning to downgrade the safety rating of Mexican carriers. The act comes after a lengthy review of Mexican civil aviation. The downgrade would prevent Mexican carriers from adding new routes to US destinations and bar them from entering marketing agreements with US firms.

The news agencies say the FAA plans to announce the downgrade in the upcoming days. If the announcement is true, what does it entail, and what does it mean to downgrade the safety of a country in aviation terms?

Photo: Kochan Kleps/Airways

IASA Program

The “International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) program” measures the safety of countries and not carriers. It can block carriers from nations that do not measure up to its standards,” says the Reuters article.

CNBC quotes an anonymous source who says that the downgrade does not involve flight safety, but rather concerns Mexico’s oversight of the industry. This is why the downgrade is for the country’s entire industry, not just one airline. The FAA had talks with Mexican aviation officials about its concerns, and not all of the concerns had been addressed.

Category 1 vs Category 2

Downgrading to Category 2 from Category 1 does not affect flight operations. But Mexican airlines will not be able to “launch new flights, and airline-to-airline marketing practices such as selling seats on each other’s flights in code-share arrangements would be restricted.”

Mexico is, of course, a top US travel destination.

Per the CNBC article, the FAA downgraded Mexico to Category 2 in 2010 due to “suspected shortcomings within its civil aviation authority.” The agency upgraded Mexico about four months later.

Photo: Misael Ocasio Hernanadez/Airways

What Is Examined

The IASA program examines the following aspects of a countries civil aviation program:

  • Primary aviation legislation
  • Specific operating regulations
  • State civil aviation system and safety oversight functions
  • Technical personnel qualification and training
  • Technical guidance, tools and the provision of safety-critical information
  • Licensing, certification, authorization, and approval obligations
  • Surveillance obligations
  • Resolution of safety concerns.

The FAA Website describes the two categories.

  • Category 1, Does Comply with ICAO Standards: A country’s civil aviation authority has been assessed by FAA inspectors and has been found to license and oversee air carriers in accordance with ICAO aviation safety standards.
  • Category 2, Does Not Comply with ICAO Standards: The Federal Aviation Administration assessed this country’s civil aviation authority (CAA) and determined that it does not provide safety oversight of its air carrier operators in accordance with the minimum safety oversight standards established by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
Aeromexico Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner AX-ADL. Photo: Alberto Cucini/Airways

The Civil Aviation Authorities of Category 2 Countries

  1. lack laws or regulations necessary to support the certification and oversight of air carriers in accordance with minimum international standards;
  2. lack the technical expertise, resources, and organization to license or oversee air carrier operations;
  3. do not have adequately trained and qualified technical personnel;
  4. do not provide adequate inspector guidance to ensure enforcement of, and compliance with, minimum international standards;
  5. have insufficient documentation and records of certification and inadequate continuing oversight and surveillance of air carrier operations.

Per Reuters, Category 2 countries include Bangladesh, Curacao, Ghana, Malaysia, The Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (which include Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, Nevis, and Antigua), Pakistan, Thailand, and Venezuela.

Featured image: Aeromexico Boeing 787. Photo: Alberto Cucini/Airways