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FAA blocks Mexico's Aviacsa from operating into the US

The FAA has banned Mexico's Aviacsa from serving the US until it can resolve safety violations identified by the Mexican DGAC.

Aviacsa has been grounded twice in recent weeks by the DGAC over alleged safety violations but both times the carrier was able to secure court orders authorising it to resume operations. However, Aviacsa has not yet been able to overcome an FAA decision to ban the carrier from serving the US.

An FAA spokesman confirms Aviacsa's "operations specifications" were revoked on 12 June and have not yet been reinstated.

"Our top concern is safety and we are following the lead of the DGAC, which has determined that there are significant problems with Aviacsa's operation," says the FAA spokesman.

"I anticipate that until the carrier fixes those problems, and the DGAC signs off on the fixes, we will not allow Aviacsa to fly into the US."

Aviacsa planning director Manuel Cung confirms Aviacsa has not operated its only US route, connecting Monterrey with Las Vegas, since last week. But he says the carrier is working on fixing the problems identified by the DGAC and is confident it will soon receive the required permission to resume its Las Vegas service.

"We are working on that right now," Cung tells ATI.

Cung adds Aviacsa has been operating all of its domestic routes since 12 June, when Aviacsa secured a new court order authorising it to resume operating 20 of its Boeing 737s. Aviacsa was forced to cease operations on 11 June after another court reinstated the DGAC's initial grounding order from 2 June.

Aviacsa was initially grounded for four days from 2 June until late on 5 June, when the carrier secured an initial court order authorizing the carrier to resume operations despite vehement objections by the Mexican DGAC.

Mexico's Secretary of Communications and Transportation (SCT), which oversees the DGAC, continue to legally challenge the decision by two Mexican courts to override its grounding order. The SCT claims it has the right to ground carriers over safety concerns and believes 25 of Aviacsa's Boeing 737s are not airworthy.

The case is likely to drag on for months without a final outcome. The next court hearing is reportedly scheduled for the middle of next week.

Meanwhile, Cung says Aviacsa is working on addressing the deficiencies highlighted by the SCT in the initial grounding order. But he claims these problems are very minor and do not actually affect the airworthiness of its aircraft. Aviacsa is arguing that the grounding was not warranted and the carrier is being unfairly singled out by the SCT.

Other Mexican carriers are pushing for more consolidation in the oversaturated domestic market and have pointed out that Aviacsa is also behind in paying airport and air navigation bills. The SCT tried to ground Aviacsa last August, citing its overdue bills with government owned suppliers, but the carrier was able avert the grounding before operations were ceased by again securing a court order. The SCT continues to fight this case in court as well.

Some Mexican carriers also have voiced a concern that Mexico's DGAC inability to ground Aviacsa over safety violations could lead to Mexico being downgraded under the FAA international aviation safety assessment (IASA) programme.

But an FAA spokesman says a downgrade from category 1 is not currently being considered.

"I don't think you can indict a country's entire aviation safety system based on one court ruling," the FAA spokesman says.

"The IASA Program focuses on a country's ability to adhere to international standards and recommended practices for aircraft operations and maintenance The IASA program does not evaluate individual carriers."

While Aviacsa is currently banned from serving the US, the spokesman says the carrier's two FAA Part 145 repair station certificates have not been revoked. Aviacsa therefore can continue to work on US-registered aircraft at its airframe and engine shops in Mexico City as well as on US-certified products at its avionics shop in Monterrey.

Aviacsa, which owns a fleet of 23 737-200s and three 737-300s, has heavy maintenance capabilities for the 737-200 and Pratt & Whitney JT8D engine as well as various components.

While a higher court could potentially revoke any day the current order authorising Aviacsa to fly despite the DGAC grounding order, Cung says its traffic has returned to normal with load factors "above 60%".

He acknowledges Aviacsa has cut capacity and is not currently operating all 26 of its aircraft but this is in response weak demand due to the economic downturn. He says Aviacsa had only been flying 18 or 19 of its aircraft before the initial grounding on 2 June.

Cung says Aviacsa may return to its previous schedule of 80 to 85 flights per day during the peak summer season, which in Mexico includes July and August.

Meanwhile, the SCT continues to warn potential Aviacsa passengers that it still cannot guarantee the safety of the 25 aircraft cited in its initial grounding order. It also has pointed out to the public that the FAA has suspended Aviacsa from operating in the US after determining the carrier does not meet international safety standards.

Cung, however, says its passengers are loyal and realise safety has been Aviacsa's main focus since it began operations nearly 20 years ago.

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