Worries about plane safety in Mexico City

CHRISTOPHER SHERMAN (Associated Press)AP
International pilots and airlines have warned Mexico's authorities about air safety problems.
Camera IconInternational pilots and airlines have warned Mexico's authorities about air safety problems. Credit: AP

International pilots and airlines have been alarmed by an increase in potentially dangerous incidents in Mexico City's airspace since it was redesigned to accommodate a second airport.

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

The International Air Transport Association, which represents some 290 airlines, says that in the past year, there were at least 17 incidents of ground proximity alerts for planes approaching Mexico City's Benito Juarez International Airport.

IATA gave that figure in a letter to the head of Mexican Airspace Navigation Services, the government agency responsible for managing the airspace.

"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 International Federation of Air Line Pilots' Associations also 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.

The incidents follow the opening of the new Felipe Angeles International Airport north of Mexico's capital in March, one of President Andres Manuel Lopez 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.

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.

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

Jimenez 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 Angeles terminal or to an even more distant, largely unused airport in city of Toluca over a mountain pass to the west.

Mexico's National Air Transport Chamber called on the country's aviation authorities "to address with the highest priority the reports that have been made to them for months and make known the diagnosis and the measures to mitigate the corresponding risks."

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