Following an incident where two planes nearly collided due to heavy air traffic, and multiple reports concerning the saturation of Mexico City’s airport, countless aviation groups, including the International Air Transport Association (IATA), have expressed grave concern over the metropolis’ dangerously busy airspace.
Mexico is one of the most visited countries in the world. Even throughout Covid, when international travel came to a standstill everywhere else, the North American nation dominated headlines as a restriction-free haven, and has continued to do so even now, when some of its strongest competitors have also reopened.
Sadly, attaining this desirable post has not come without its challenges, and risk of collision and other misfortunes has increased dramatically as Mexico City’s airspace faces unprecedented congestion:
Two Volaris Jets Nearly Collide At Mexico City Airport Due To Saturation
Even though it has recently opened a new international airport to try and divert traffic around the capital, Mexico is still struggling with an unprecedented travel demand. Especially now that it has officially scrapped its Covid warning system, finally treating the virus as endemic, the situation is unlikely to improve unless more drastic action is taken.
On May 7, two Volaris Airbus A320s came really close to colliding upon being cleared to land and take off at the same runway, in what would have been a major aviation catastrophe. While a last-minute radio warning kept the worst from happening, the incoming jet only missed the other engine, then preparing to take off, by some 100 feet.
No one was injured, and the Y4-799 flight arriving from Mazatlan managed to land successfully, while the Q6-4069 flight to Guatemala City took off without further problems. Even though a collision was avoided, albeit narrowly, the event has drawn criticism and raised some serious concerns regarding Mexico’s airspace safety.
The fact that Mexico still ranks high as the number one preferred vacation for Americans, and its positive tourism trends over the next few months, are actually all the more worrying, as Mexico City’s over-stretched international airport needs to have operations urgently reduced 25% in order to avoid an impeding disaster.
17 Collision Alerts In Total Have Been Issued Since April 2021
As noted by Deputy Transport Minister Rogelio Jiminez Pons, ‘the airport has been saturated and in terrible condition for decades’, and flights must be diverted to other airports, including the brand new Felipe Angeles International Airport.
IATA officials are on top of recent events, noting there have been a staggering 17 GPWS – Ground Proximity Warning System alerts since April 2021.
A GPWS alert refers to a situation where there is an imminent risk of a plane collision or crash unless quick action is taken. May 7 is only one of many similar incidents, which have led Victor Hernandez, the director of the Mexican Air Space Navigation Services (SENEAM) to hand in a resignation letter, only adding to the ongoing chaos.
Writing on behalf of 290 airlines, IATA representatives reiterated that ‘these alarms, without the quick action of the flight crew, can lead to 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‘.
Additionally, the IFALPA – International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations also inferred the opening of Mexico City’s new international airport, and the suboptimal redesign of the capital’s airspace to accommodate it, has contributed to the current imbroglio. They also suggest air traffic controllers have ‘received little training and support as to how to operate this new configuration’.
Redesigned Airspace, Lack of Training, And Staff Longer Working Hours Could Be Behind Recent Incidents
The Felipe Angeles Airport, situated some 31 miles north of Mexico City’s center, was originally meant to ease the burden on operations at its counterpart, Benito Juarez Airport. That is something yet to materialize, as experts claim the airspace’s redesign is ‘flawed’ in the way it ‘ignores the metropolis’ unique geography’.
Landing aircraft in Mexico City has always been historically challenging, as the city is surrounded by mountains, while being at an altitude of more than 7,000 feet, requiring careful planning and a perfect airspace management. As recent reports indicate, the latter has not been maintained.
Mexico’s Deputy Transport Minister somewhat confirmed IFALPA’s concerns by conceding the Volaris incident was likely caused by an ‘air traffic control mistake‘. While he did not mention air traffic controllers being poorly trained, Pons did reveal Mexico currently has a shortfall of roughly 250 controllers, which means staff may be working longer hours.
Due to the above reasons, the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has since downgraded Mexico’s air safety rating. While it previously enjoyed a Category 1 status, it is now in a Category 2 limbo, which means it does not comply with ICAO – International Civil Aviation Organization standards.
The downgrading also suggests Mexico is failing to meet minimal international safety standards, and that the civil aviation authority in the country is ‘lacking’ in certain areas. These may include resolution of safety concerns, technical expertise, trained personnel, among others.
So far, the Mexican Government and Mexico’s aviation authorities are yet to offer a definitive solution to the pressing issue, although President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has confirmed an investigation is ‘underway‘.
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