US cuts Mexico's air safety rating, bars new routes

An Aeromexico plane prepares to land at Benito Juarez international airport in Mexico City. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (AFP) - US regulators on Tuesday (May 25) downgraded Mexico's air safety rating, a move that bars Mexican carriers from offering new service or routes in the United States.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said the action also means US carriers cannot market and sell tickets with Mexican partner airlines, but it does not affect any existing service.

"The FAA will increase its scrutiny of Mexican airline flights to the United States," the agency said, adding that it found "several areas" where the country fell short of international air safety standards.

The US regulator lowered Mexico's safety rating to "Category 2" from "Category 1."

The downgrade means Mexico's laws or regulations do not ensure "minimum national 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 resolution of safety concerns," the FAA said.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Monday urged US regulators not to downgrade the air safety rating of his country, which is heavily reliant on tourism.

"We have been complying with all the requirements. We feel that this decision should not be carried out," he said when asked about reports that a downgrade was imminent.

Lopez Obrador said the move appeared to be aimed at helping US airlines win customers.

"They are the ones who benefit and the national airlines could be harmed," he told reporters, but added that since Mexican carriers were mainly focused on domestic flights the impact would be limited.

Flag carrier Aeromexico said its existing operations to and from the United States would not be affected.

"Safety is our top priority and therefore we will continue to operate under the highest international standards," it said, pledging to work with the Mexican aviation authorities to regain the Category 1 rating.

Mexico's pilots union ASPA said the safety downgrade applied to the country and its aeronautical authority rather than the airlines themselves.

"We assure our passengers that, when they fly with ASPA pilots, they fly with pilots that have fulfilled the highest international standards in terms of security," the union said in a statement.

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