MEXICO CITY (AP) — Pilots and airlines have expressed concern about 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 if no action was taken.
They suggest that air traffic controllers have not been sufficiently trained to operate the newly configured airspace.
In the past year, there have been at least 17 incidents of ground proximity warning system alerts for aircraft 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 airspace management.
“As you know, these alarms, without prompt action by the flight crew, can lead to a controlled impact scenario, CFIT, considered by the industry to be one of the highest risk indicators in operational safety, and with the highest rate of accidents, as well as fatalities,” the letter said. The Mexican agency sent a request for comment to the Ministry of Transportation on Friday.
The following day, the International Federation of Airline Pilots’ Associations issued a safety bulletin drawing attention to such incidents, as well as aircraft landing with very little fuel after being unexpectedly forced into circles and diversions to other airports due to excessive delays. He also cited “significant” alerts from ground proximity warning systems, including a near miss.
The incidents follow the opening of the new Felipe Ángeles International Airport north of the Mexican capital in March. The converted military airbase was one of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s flagship projects.
“It would appear that with the opening of this newly converted airport, (air traffic control) has apparently received little training and support on how to operate this new configuration in the airspace,” the bulletin reads. .
Mexico’s Department of Communications and Transportation, which oversees aviation safety agencies, acknowledged in a statement that there was a case of a Ground Proximity Warning System, or GPWS, alert in an aircraft on June 15, 2021.
But he said it was the only incident reported to authorities.
The pilots’ federation and the International Air Transport Association noted that a factor in the incidents appeared to be that air traffic controllers were not using standard phraseology in their communications with flight crews. The association requested a meeting with the Mexican aeronautical authorities as soon as possible.
López Obrador canceled the previous administration’s partially built airport, which was supposed to replace Benito Juarez, because it was too lavish.
It was feared at the time that López Obrador’s plan to operate two airports simultaneously could create problems above the capital. The letter from the International Air Transport Association says the incidents have been reported “since the implementation of the first phase of the Valley of Mexico airspace overhaul.”
The pilots’ federation bulletin stated, “Crews received clearances that do not comply with terrain avoidance restrictions” on the routes used to approach Benito Juárez Airport. IFALPA declined to comment beyond its security bulletin and referred questions to its Mexican branch.
On Wednesday, Transport and Infrastructure Undersecretary Rogelio Jiménez Pons told local media that the government had decided to cut the number of flights allowed to land at the old airport by 20%. He made no mention of the security bulletin or reported incidents.
The reduction is due to start in July and could force around 10 daily flights to the new airport. The government had previously said that any new flights scheduled to Mexico City will have to use Felipe Ángeles, but the new cut applies to some existing routes.
Jiménez Pons said the old airport needed to reduce traffic because it is overcrowded and needs updating. He said airlines can choose to fly to the Felipe Ángeles terminal or to an even farther and largely unused airport in the city of Toluca via a mountain pass to the west.
The Mexican Pilots Association, a member of the international federation, said Thursday it had requested a meeting with Mexican aeronautical authorities to discuss the situation and share the experiences of its pilots.
He called on the Mexican Airspace Navigation Services “to process the reports of Mexican and foreign pilots, seeking first and foremost the safety of flight operations and the efficiency of our airspace.”
A year ago, U.S. regulators downgraded Mexico’s air safety rating, a move that prevents Mexican airlines from expanding flights to the United States.
The Federal Aviation Administration has found that Mexico’s ability to oversee its airlines falls short of standards set by a United Nations group called the International Civil Aviation Organization. These standards cover a wide range of issues, including the technical expertise of the regulatory body, inspection procedures and record keeping.
The letter from the International Air Transport Association alludes to this situation, noting that these incidents “undoubtedly do not help the process in which Mexico finds itself immersed, trying to recover its category 1 (aviation safety rating) which was withdrawn by the FAA in the last year.”
The National Air Transport Chamber of Mexico called on the country’s aeronautical authorities “to treat with the highest priority the reports that have been made to them for months and to publicize the diagnosis and the measures to mitigate the corresponding risks”.
AP writer David Koenig in Dallas contributed to this report.
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