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Mexican airline industry in ruins

MEXICO — Mexico’s airline industry is in shambles, plagued by safety issues, downgrading ratings by the US Federal Aviation Administration and vandalism.

This week alone, passengers missed connections because thieves cut fiber optic cables leading to Mexico City airport, forcing immigration authorities to revert to using slow paper forms.

Wednesday’s internet outage came nearly a month after aviation and transport authorities were forced to suspend medical, physical and license renewal exams until 2023 because the department’s computer systems transports had been hacked.

After a near-miss between two planes at Mexico City airport on May 7, things only got worse. Authorities have revealed that one of the airport’s main terminals is sinking and needs urgent work to shore it up.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s response was to propose allowing foreign airlines to operate domestic flights. But downgrading security — the FAA moved Mexico from Tier 1, which most countries have, to the lower Tier 2 in 2021 — is preventing Mexican airlines from opening new routes to the United States. .

Thus, struggling Mexican airlines face competition in their home market, without access to new international routes. Experts say this all sounds like a disaster for domestic aviation, a sector that López Obrador had placed special emphasis on developing.

“It is not very encouraging for investments or the prospect of recovering category 1 in the short or medium term,” wrote aviation expert Rodrigo Soto-Morales in the specialized journal a21, referring to the failure of Internet and piracy.

Authorities said internet cables at the Mexico City airport were cut by thieves who mistakenly thought the fiber optic cables were salable copper. They pointed out that it happened off airport property, but in fact it was a cable conduit that leads directly to the airport less than a mile away. distance.

Rogelio Rodriguez Garduño, an aviation expert who teaches aviation law at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said the events reflected a decades-long decadence in Mexico’s aviation regulations. Mexico, unlike most countries, does not have an independent aviation agency.

“If something goes wrong, they investigate themselves and say they don’t take any responsibility,” Rodriguez Garduño said.

This doesn’t bode well for López Obrador’s promise to reclaim a Tier 1 security clearance.

“It seems possible that this is a process where we are going backwards,” Rodriguez Garduño said.

Consider the incident on May 7, when a Mexican airliner was cleared to land on a runway where another plane was about to take off. They arrived within a few hundred yards of each other.

The only person who appears to have been fired for the near miss was a member of the crew of another plane who filmed the incident on his mobile phone, accompanied by the words “No no no no” and a sentence roughly equivalent to “incredible.”

“The problems that we see for example in air traffic control where planes are about to crash… the failure of the immigration system, the problems of training and supervision of maintenance, the issuance of permits , it is a recurring thing that did not start yesterday with this administration”, said Rodriguez Garduño, “although this administration has not taken the necessary measures either”.

It’s an odd position for a president who has placed so much emphasis on the airline industry that one of his administration’s biggest projects has been to build a new airport in Mexico City to relieve pressure on the old overcrowded terminal.

López Obrador asked the military to offer civilian domestic flights and publicly said he wanted a public airline in Mexico. But the president doesn’t like spending money on the kind of independent regulators many say are needed to ensure safety.

In the past year, there have been at least 17 incidents of ground proximity warning system alerts for aircraft approaching the Mexico City airport. The International Air Transport Association, which represents 290 airlines, has written to Mexican Airspace Navigation Services expressing concern about the close calls.

“Mexico needs an autonomous agency with a legal status that guarantees independence,” said Rodriguez Garduño.


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