MEXICO CITY -- Air traffic controllers recorded another close call in Mexico City flight operations even as Mexican aviation authorities were scrambling to respond to reports from international pilot and airline groups of serious confusion in the skies over the capital.
Government officials said a flight into Benito Juarez International Airport was given clearance to land on a runway where another airliner was about to take off Saturday night. It happened just hours after transportation officials established a working group to discuss an increase in dangerous incidents in Mexico City’s airspace.
The head of Mexican Airspace Navigation Services, which manages the country’s airspace, resigned in a letter dated Friday. Mexico’s Communications and Transportation Department, which includes that agency, initially denied knowing about at least 17 incidents of ground proximity warning system alerts for planes approaching the airport in the past year, confirming only one last year.
Last week, the International Air Transport Association, which represents some 290 airlines, wrote to the Mexican Airspace Navigation Services expressing concern about the close calls.
“As you know, these alarms, without the quick action of the flight crew, can lead to a 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,” the letter said.
The International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations also issued a safety bulletin last week about such incidents. It suggested air traffic controllers had not been sufficiently trained for the reconfiguration of the capital’s airspace last year in advance of the opening of the new Felipe Ángeles International Airport north of Mexico’s capital in March.
Jose Alfredo Covarrubias, secretary general of the National Air Traffic Controllers Union, suggested Monday that officials at Mexican Airspace Navigation Services had been underreporting incidents in the capital’s airspace. The reconfigured airspace, he said, was leading to aborted takeoffs and landings and to planes flying too close to each other.
“It is definitely the bad, poorly done redesign,” Covarrubias said after a news conference. “There are areas where safety is not guaranteed.”
Víctor Hernández Sandoval, who quit Friday as head of the Mexican Airspace Navigation Services, made no mention of the problems in his resignation letter. He had led the agency since December 2018. In announcing an investigation into the latest close call at the airport, Transportation Undersecretary Rogelio Jiménez Pons said Hernández’s resignation was accepted.
Both aircraft involved in Saturday’s incident belonged to the Mexican airline Volaris.
Volaris chief executive Enrique Beltranena said via Twitter on Sunday: “Thanks to our pilots’ training and their impeccable following of procedures, no passenger or crew member was at risk.” He said he immediately called for an investigation by aviation authorities.
Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Monday that the problems would be addressed, but he also suggested they were being overblown and blamed it on the conservative opposition.
“Communication has been established since the weekend,” the president said. “Of course the problem needs to be addressed.”