Mexico to recover U.S. air safety rating next week, president says

Mexico President holds his daily news conference

Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador holds his daily news conference, a day after Mexico’s ruling party National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) announced the result of its poll to decide the party’s presidential nomination for 2024, in Mexico City, Mexico September 7, 2023. REUTERS/Raquel Cunha/File Photo Acquire Licensing Rights

Sept 8 (Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Transportation has told Mexico that it will officially recover a U.S.-given air safety rating next week, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Friday, preempting the much-anticipated decision.

Mexico was downgraded by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to the Category 2 safety rating more than two years ago, pausing Mexican airlines’ plans to expand new routes to its northern neighbor.

The FAA, responding to a request for comment on Lopez Obrador’s remarks, said it continued to assist Mexico’s civil aviation authority and it expected to conclude the process “in the near future.”

The downgrade was a major blow to national carriers, as U.S. airlines were able to scoop up market share. Mexico overhauled its civil aviation law, but faced several hurdles in recovering the Category 1 rating.

“This is good news,” Lopez Obrador said in a regular morning press conference, explaining that Foreign Minister Alicia Barcena had been informed by the U.S. Department of Transportation of the upcoming decision. “All of the requirements have been met,” he added.

In a June audit, the FAA raised concerns about Mexico’s process for post-accident investigations and for carrying out medical exams for sector employees, meeting minutes obtained by Reuters showed.

The imminent upgrade to Category 1 comes as Lopez Obrador continues to criticize operations at the country’s busiest airport and encourage airlines to move operations to a military-run airport, a flagship project he opened last year.

“There’s space; there’s no pretext” for airlines to not move flights to the newer AIFA,” Lopez Obrador said, describing operations at the older, busier AICM airport as “very risky,” without providing evidence.

Government-mandated flight cuts at AICM are set to take effect in January, slashing slots from 52 per hour to 43 per hour. Industry groups decried the move.

Transport options to the farther-away AIFA remain limited for residents of the capital, and a Reuters reporter found in an August visit that many storefronts past security remained vacant.

Carrier Aeromexico announced earlier this week it would increase its flights at the AIFA by 40% by October.

The flight cuts would also affect the usage tax collected from each passenger who travels through the AICM. The tax is currently used to pay off some $4.2 billion in outstanding bonds from the construction of an unfinished airport, which Lopez Obrador scrapped upon his election.

Ratings agency Fitch revised the outlook of the trust which manages the bonds, the Mexico City Airport Trust, to negative from stable earlier this week, citing concerns about the AICM’s ability to address maintenance needs and passenger congestion.

Lopez Obrador slammed the ratings agency’s decision on Friday, and said he could assure bondholders their investments were safe.

Reporting by Kylie Madry; additional reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Andrea Ricci, Edmund Blair and Aurora Ellis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Kylie Madry is a headline news reporter covering business, politics and breaking news for all of Latin America. She’s based out of the Reuters office in Mexico City, where she was previously a freelance journalist and translator working on award-winning podcasts, books about Mexico’s drug lords and stories ranging from the fight for clean water to the millions spent on the city’s surveillance system. Kylie is originally from Dallas, Texas.

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