Just as Costa Rica's legislative assembly was ratifying its open skies bilateral with the USA, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced it was downgrading Costa Rica under its safety assessment programme from Category 1 to 2. That has effectively frozen the US frequencies of flag carrier LACSA at the same moment as US airlines are gaining unlimited access to Costa Rica.

The FAA's action, based on safety inspections conducted last year, has reignited debate over the effect of its programme throughout Latin America. Under the FAA's system, airlines from a country assessed as Category 2 may continue to fly to or from the US, but they cannot change their operating specifications. That severely curtails their operations, while US airlines flying to that country are unaffected. Airlines in a country classified as Category 3 may not fly to the USA.

The FAA has given Category 2 or 3 ratings to 34 countries. Of those, 25 are in Latin America and the Caribbean, where the programme has led to accusations of US protectionism. Peru is the only South American country upgraded from Category 2 to 1 since the FAA started this programme. But Maria Garrido, Latin American aviation specialist, claims airline managers in her native Peru are worried about a possible FAA downgrade back to Category 2. She fears the FAA may intervene because the Peruvian air force operates domestic commercial flights without civilian oversight. Garrido argues that local airlines should be none of the FAA's business. "The FAA should only rule those international carriers serving the USA," she says.

Source: Airline Business