Hard Facts should end FAA-AFAC stand-off

Mexican Standoff
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One CAA passing judgment on a peer CAA – a tense exercise

FAA repeated findings about AFAC’s competence came to a Mexican Standoff

Recent Significant ATC problems catalyst for institutional change

As the below article explains in detail, the history of the FAA’s (i)initial 2010 determination that the Agencia Federal de Aviacion Civil (AFAC) to meet the FAA’s International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA)standards, (ii) has failed again in 2021 to meet the ICAO developed criteria for evaluating sovereign Civil Aviation Authorities (CAAs) . Sources expect that the FAA is going to continue its Category 2 rating for AFAC.

Simple Flying, below, asked the obvious question: Why Hasn’t Mexico’s FAA Safety Rating Been Restored? Tough the proper query has been posed; the answer is not satisfactorily identified there.

This article has a credible hypothesis:


At the government level, the decision was met with mixed feelings. On the one hand, Mexico said it would fully cooperate with FAA but reiterated its commitment to comply with ICAO standards.

The Mexican Government held an inter-ministerial meeting to fully address the situation. At the table were present different stakeholders, including the general directors of major air carriers such as Aeroméxico and Volaris as well as the ministers of transport, communication, finance and foreign relations.

After reviewing the audit’s results, Mexican authorities said that it was possible that auditors didn’t have all the information needed and requested a new meeting to fix the issue.

‘We have sent the FAA administrator a new communication by email requesting an urgent meeting with its auditors, to jointly review the evidence submitted with our specialists,’ said undersecretary of transportation Carlos Alfonso Morán Moguel. ‘At the same time, we express the need to resolve these issues as soon as possible.’”

Another unnamed source made a more blunt statement:

In response to the decision, the Federal Agency of Civil Aviation (AFAC) of Mexico announced in a statement that it was fully committed to complying with the norms and standards of the ICAO.  

“The national airlines currently operate with high levels of safety and quality of service, comparable to the international standards of any line that flies in the neighboring country to the north,” the ACAF said

AFAC logo

A negative judgment by a PEER is difficult for an aviation safety organization to swallow. IAS Assessments have engendered such reactions in the past. It is difficult for a high ranking official to explain to the boss or ask for additional budget to make the called out fixes or instruct your subordinates that past practices are not satisfactory. That litany of excuses is probably why AFAC has not reformed itself.


It appears that AFAC is offended by the FAA’s caustic criticism WHILE the US CAA is confidant that all is not well in its peer agency- definition of a Mexican Standoff. [1]

Fortunately for the correction effort, more than an opinion, however objective it may have been, fault is being found by Mexican and International Airlines in the country’s airspace management (see below article with citations to IATA, ALPA, IFALPA and the home country airlines. This cannot be dismissed as inter-country chauvinism. Not ticks on a checklist, but near misses, false GPWS, near CFIT disasters.

[1] According to the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, the term Mexican Standoff has an Australian origin.

Those substantial safety  marks now mandate  “FIX IT NOW”!!!


Concerns raised over management of Mexico City’s airspace

Pilots and airlines have expressed concerns over an increase in dangerous incidents in Mexico City’s airspace since it was redesigned to accommodate a second airport


May 6, 2022, 9:41 PM

ATC Tower

MEXICO CITY Pilots and airlines have expressed concerns over an increase in potentially dangerous incidents in Mexico City’s airspace since it was redesigned to accommodate a second airport, including alerts that planes could crash unless action was taken.

They suggest air traffic controllers have been insufficiently trained to operate the newly configured airspace.GPWS warning

In the past year, there were at least 17 incidents of ground proximity warning system alerts for planes approaching Mexico City’s Benito Juarez International Airport, according to a letter the International Air Transport Association, which represents some 290 airlines, wrote this week to the head of Mexican Airspace Navigation Services, the government agency responsible for managing the airspace.

IATA to Mexican ATC

CFIT“As you know, these alarms, without the quick action of the flight crew, can lead to a scenario of controlled flight into terrain, CFIT, considered by the industry to be one of the highest risk indicators in operational safety, and with the highest accident rate, as well as fatalities,” the letter said. The Mexican agency referred a request for comment to the transportation ministry Friday.

The following day, the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations (IFALPA) issued a safety bulletin drawing attention to such incidents, as well as planes landing with very low fuel after being forced to circle unexpectedly and diversions to other airports because of excessive delays. It also cited “significant” ground proximity warning systems alerts, including a near collision.

IFALPA letter

The incidents follow the opening of the new Felipe Ángeles International Airport north of Mexico’s capital in March. The converted military air base was one of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s signature projects.

“It would appear that with the opening of this newly converted airport, (air traffic control) has apparently received little training and support as to how to operate this new configuration in the airspace,” the bulletin said.

Mexico’s Communications and Transportion Department, which oversees air safety agencies, acknowledged in a statement that there had been one instance of a Ground Proximity Warning System, or GPWS, alert on a plane on June 15, 2021.

But it said that was the only incident that was reported to authorities.

Both the pilots’ federation and the International Air Transport Association noted that a factor in the incidents appeared to be air traffic controllers not using standard phraseology in their communications with flight crews. The association requested a meeting with Mexican aviation authorities as soon as possible.

López Obrador cancelled the previous administration’s partially constructed airport, which was supposed to replace Benito Juarez, because it was too lavish.

There were concerns at that time that López Obrador’s plan to operate two airports simultaneously could create problems over the capital. The International Air Transport Association’s letter said the incidents had been reported “since the implementation of the first phase of the redesign of the Mexico Valley airspace.”

The pilots’ federation bulletin said, “Crews have received clearances that do not adhere to terrain avoidance restrictions” on routes used to approach the Benito Juárez airport. IFALPA declined to comment beyond their safety bulletin and referred questions to their Mexican affiliate.

On Wednesday, Transportation and Infrastructure Undersecretary Rogelio Jiménez Pons told local media the government has decided to reduce the number of flights allowed to land at the old airport by 20 percent. He made no mention of the safety bulletin or the reported incidents.

The reduction is to start in July, and could force about 10 daily flights to the new airport. The government had already said any new flights scheduled into Mexico City will have to use Felipe Ángeles, but the new reduction applies to some existing routes.

topographic map of Mrxico CityJiménez Pons said the old airport had to reduce traffic because it is overloaded and needs updates. He said airlines can choose to go the Felipe Ángeles terminal or to an even more distant, largely unused airport in city of Toluca over a mountain pass to the west.

The Mexican pilots association, a member of the international federation, said Thursday that it had requested a meeting with Mexican aeronautical authorities to discuss the situation and share the experiences of its pilots.

It called on Mexican Airspace Navigation Services “to address Mexican and foreign pilots’ reports, seeking in the first place the safetyairport of air operations and the efficiency of our airspace…”







Why Hasn’t Mexico’s FAA Safety Rating Been Restored?


It’s been almost a year since the FAA downgraded Mexico. When will it end?

afac downgrade

Photo: Guillermo Quiroz Martínez via @gquimar.

On May 25, 2021, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that the Government of Mexico does not meet International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) safety standards. Based on the International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) process, the FAA downgraded Mexico’s rating to Category 2 from Category 1. It’s been almost a year, and the Mexican authorities have been unable to regain their previous status. Why? What has happened? Let’s investigate further.

Lack of progress

In 2010, the FAA degraded the Mexican authorities to Category 2 status. It took four months and heavy investments to restore the previous status back then.

A decade later, the FAA did a new IASA process and found some of the same deficiencies Mexico had in 2010. In total, the FAA found 28 deficiencies that needed to be addressed by Mexico’s Civil Aviation Federal Agency (AFAC).

Falling into Category 2 status has impacted the commercial services and partnerships of the Mexican airlines. Only four carriers based in Mexico fly to the United States, AeromexicoAeromarViva Aerobus, and Volaris. They are unable to launch new flights to the United States, add new aircraft to commercial flights to this country, and increase their ongoing partnerships (Delta-Aeromexico and Frontier-Volaris codeshares).

top carriers

The current Mexican government promised to focus on helping the civil aviation authorities restore the Category 1 status. The FAA has sent auditors over the last few months but has not yet restored the Category 1 status.

According to the Mexican newspaper El Financiero, the FAA will do a Technical Review in May. Between 40 and 50 days later will have the results of the review and schedule a final audit a month later. Therefore, Mexico could regain Category 1 status between July and August.   [???]


What now?

While these dates are not set in stone, they could signal the Mexican authorities’ end of the current Category 2 status.

Moreover, Mexico should try to regain Category 1 status as soon as possible. So far, the Mexican airlines have been able to cope with the loss of Category due to the COVID-19 crisis. They have been able to regain their previous capacity levels without any impact but as time goes by, they fall into the risk of losing market share against the US-based carriers, which can increase their connectivity to Mexico (and have done it relentlessly in the last few months).

Additionally, Mexico’s new airport, the Felipe Ángeles International Airport (NLU), cannot add flights to the United States. Volaris has already signaled interest inMexico City 2 airports launching direct flights from NLU to Los Angeles by the end of the year. If launched, this route would be a great victory for the Mexican government, as it tries to promote the use of the new airport among Mexican carriers.

What does it mean to be in Category 2?

Under the IASA program, the FAA determines if a country’s civil aviation authorities comply with ICAO’s safety ratings.

The FAA holds these audits of all countries with air carriers that have applied to fly to the United States, currently conduct operations to the United States, or participate in codesharing arrangements with US partner airlines.


To obtain and maintain a Category 1 rating, a country must adhere to the safety standards of ICAO, the United Nations’ technical agency for aviation. ICAO establishes international standards and recommended practices for aircraft operations and maintenance.

Presently, 15 countries are downgraded to Category 2 by the FAA. The latest was Russia, downgraded a couple of weeks ago.

These countries are Bangladesh, Curaçao, Ghana, Malaysia, Mexico, the members of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and St. Kitts and Nevis), Pakistan, Russia, Thailand, and Venezuela.

FAA IASA category 2 countries

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