A little over a month after the opening of commercial operations at the Felipe Angeles International Airport (NLU), a controversial (and resisted by the air transport industry) project of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s administration that reconverted the Santa Lucia Air Base and implied discarding the development of the New Mexico City International Airport in Texcoco, a series of harsh warnings have emerged about how air safety has been affected as a result of the redesign of the Mexico Valley airspace, the first phase of which had been implemented in early 2021.
IFALPA (International Federation of Air Line Pilots Association) brought the issue to light on Wednesday by publishing a safety bulletin in which they said they have received reports of several incidents of aircraft arriving at Mexico City International Airport with low fuel levels due to unplanned waits, diversions to alternatives due to excessive delays and significant GPWS (ground proximity warning system) alerts where even one crew almost suffered a controlled flight into terrain (CFIT).
This, IFALPA states, could be a consequence of the poor training and support received by air traffic controllers on how to operate the new airspace configuration that incorporated Santa Lucia Air Base as a commercial airport.
«Crews have received clearances that do not adhere to terrain avoidance restrictions in STAR (Standard Terminal Arrival). In addition, proper ICAO phraseology is not used, adding to confusion about altitude restrictions,» the IFALPA bulletin states.
Given this, they recommend crews to carry additional fuel to support extended waiting patterns and diversions, as well as to consider that Mexico City International Airport is at high altitude, so they must be prepared to operate in that environment. Finally, they clarify that «if you receive an authorization that is questionable to you, resolve it to your satisfaction.»
The Mexican Aviators Pilots Union Association (ASPA) echoed IFALPA’s bulletin and communicated yesterday that they requested a meeting with the Mexican authorities and with Servicios a la Navegación en el Espacio Aéreo Mexicano (SENEAM) «to verify and address together the problem that occurs over the terminal area of the CDMX» making available the pilots’ reports, «as well as the experience and knowledge of our technical area».
In any case, ASPA wanted to reassure the public that it has «the highest safety and training standards» and that «under no circumstances would we compromise their safety, even if this implies delays or deviations».
CANAERO (Cámara Nacional de Aerotransportes), which groups airlines and various industry suppliers, stated that they have had «constant communication» with the authorities during the process of redesigning the airspace in the Valley of Mexico «to guarantee the highest levels of safety for air operations and passengers».
Therefore, they will continue «working with their members and the authorities to follow up on the reports made by the pilots», urging SENAM «to attend with the highest priority the reports that have been made for months and allow to know the diagnosis and the corresponding risk mitigation measures».
Prior to this, IATA also sent a letter signed by the regional director of Operations, Safety and Security, Jose Ruiz Llorente, to the general director of SENAM, Victor Hernandez, requesting «urgent action to prevent potential accidents/incidents due to ground impact without loss of control (CFIT) and/or ground proximity warnings (GPWS) on approach to the AICM.
In the letter, released by the Mexican portal A21, IATA expressed its «concern over the significant increase in ground proximity warning events,» indicating that since April 2021 there have been seventeen such events, and how this «does not help in the process in which Mexico is immersed to try to regain Category 1 status, which was withdrawn by the FAA last year.»
The same controllers, grouped in the National Union of Air Traffic Controllers, acknowledged that incidents have increased by 300% since the airspace was redesigned, but that most of them were hidden by SENEAM. Mexican media assures that the days of the director of SENEAM are numbered.
While this is happening, reports broke this week that the Mexican government plans to publish a decree limiting the number of operations per hour at Mexico City’s International Airport to fifty, to force airlines to transfer flights to Felipe Angeles International Airport, where there are currently only about fifteen flights per day to seven destinations operated by Aeromexico, Conviasa, Viva Aerobus and Volaris.
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