The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has opened an office in Mexico, the regulatory body said on Friday, a sign the country is looking to aid one of its top travel partners to recover a coveted safety rating after being downgraded in May 2021.
The downgrade to a Category 2 safety rating means that Mexican airlines have been unable to open new routes to the United States for the past year and a half and marketing agreements between carriers have been limited.
When the downgrade went into effect, then-FAA Administrator Steve Dickson told Mexico that his agency would provide technical expertise and assistance to help regain the top rating.
“The agency has sent a team of experts nearly a dozen times since then,” the FAA told Reuters on Friday, adding that the new international office “will allow the FAA to keep an eye on operations as travel to Mexico and Latin America from the U.S. continues to increase.”
U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar first announced the news, saying the office had been opened “to strengthen cooperation between authorities and the private sector.”
Mexico’s transportation ministry in recent months has outlined a series of proposals to recover the Category 1 rating, requesting changes to regulations, budgets, and international compliance in personnel licensing, aircraft operations, and airworthiness of aircraft.
“While respecting Mexico’s sovereignty, we believe the implementation of the FAA’s recommendations via legislative channels will help our ties in the aviation sector bear more fruit for both countries and help us to be more competitive,” Salazar said in a statement.
A reform to Mexico’s aviation law has been sent to the country’s Congress, which is not currently in session.
The reform sent by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s administration would allow “cabotage,” a controversial practice permitting international airlines to operate domestic routes.
Mexican aviation groups have denounced the reform, although they acknowledge that changes must be made for Mexico to recover its Category 1 status.