A near-miss between two jets in Mexico City was captured on video May 7, sending shock across the country. One plane prepares to land, the other prepares to take off on the same runway at Benito Juárez International Airport; both flights are operated by discount airline Volaris. Within two days, Víctor Manuel Hernández Sandoval, director of navigation services for Mexico Air Space – the country’s air traffic control agency – resigned.
Mexico’s confidence in the safety of aviation remains shaken, because the circumstances leading up to the close call run deeper than one person can afford. The near disaster has sparked a public debate about whether changes to the funding and infrastructure of Mexico’s air transport network, made under President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, would make Mexican airspace dangerous.
Mr. López Obrador called accusations that he had increased air travel at risk as a plot by his political opponents. If that’s true, the US Federal Aviation Administration and the United Nations will step in. A year ago, the FAA downgraded Mexico’s air safety rating to Category 2, which the administration said “means the country’s law or regulation lacks the requirements needed to monitor the country’s airlines under minimum international safety standards, or civil aviation authorities. missing in one or more areas”, such as technical expertise, training, data collection, testing, and safety concerns. The UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization sets those standards.
This has happened before, in 2010, but Mexico recovered its ratings higher in about four months. In July 2021, the government said that restoring the Category 1 rating was a priority. But on May 7, almost a year after the 2021 downgrade, a fatal collision involving two Airbus A320s was averted simply because a skillful pilot promptly pulled up to avoid crashing. that plane. The aviation community is warning that Mexican airspace is an accident waiting to happen.
Last week, the head of the Mexican air traffic controller federation, José Alfredo Covarrubias, criticized the government for not providing funds for properly functioning equipment and a lack of 300 controllers that, he said, left those in The front line is overworked. This problem doesn’t just apply to Mexico City, he said, but includes tourist attractions around the country. According to a report in El Universal that interviewed Mr. Covarrubias, the union said there have been 30 serious aviation incidents nationwide since December. It blames this increased vulnerability on “design work” current airspace and working conditions,” El Universal wrote.
That redesign was launched by the López Obrador administration in April 2021. The International Air Transport Association says that since then there have been 17 “ground distance warning systems” in Benito alone. Juarez. The International Federation of Airline Pilots’ Associations has complained that air traffic control is not trained in the redesign.
This doesn’t have to happen. To create more capacity for Mexico City, Virginia-based consulting firm Mitre helped the government identify the Texcoco terrarium basin to build an airport replacement for the already saturated Benito Juárez airport. traffic. Aviation analysts say Texcoco offers the best conditions in difficult terrain – high mountains on three sides of the valley – to safely approach and land the jet.
The $13 billion project – New Mexico International Airport – was nearly 40% complete when López Obrador took office in December 2018. He says the state-of-the-art facility serves one of the metropolises. Latin America’s largest is a luxury for the rich. He killed it. To add capacity to Benito Juárez, he commissioned the construction of new airstrips at the Santa Lucia military base.
The Santa Lucia facility, named Felipe Ángeles International Airport, opened in March. It handles an average of 12 departures and arrivals per day. There is only one international flight, with service to and from Caracas, Venezuela. Benito Juárez, a hub closer to the city center, has almost 900 daily flights.
Mr. López Obrador will now force traffic into his pet project by reducing flights at Benito Juárez and designating any new routes to Felipe Ángeles. The flying public will be worse off — and not just because ground transportation is more expensive and less connected.
The pilot who landed at Benito Júarez was busy wearing a skirt at another airport. This requires them to start their approach at higher altitudes and near mountains where the air is unstable, and then go downhill. On May 4, the international pilots’ union cited several incidents of “low fuel status due to unplanned reserves, diversion due to excessive delays and significant GPWS”. [ground proximity warning system] warning in which a crew almost had a controlled flight into terrain. ”
That’s the pilot’s word for an accident. It is a risk that is not due to aviation but to Mr. López Obrador’s political agenda.
Write to O’Grady@wsj.com.
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