Cargo airlines have been given some breathing space to shift operations out of Benito Juárez International Airport, Mexico City’s congested main gateway.

Freighter operators have been under the gun to move flights out of Benito Juárez before 7 July, following a decree by the Mexican government in January banishing all-cargo activities, citing perennial congestion as the reason for its decision to make the airport exclusive to passenger services.

Airlines and the International Air Transport Association voiced opposition, warning that the most suitable alternative, Felipe Angeles International Airport (AIFA), was not ready – but the government remained firm.

However, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has announced that the deadline for the move will be extended by eight weeks.

The announcement came after a meeting with US transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg who was visiting the Mexican capital last week. The president said he had learned, in the meeting, that some companies needed more time for the move.

The main aspect of Mr Buttigieg’s visit was a discussion about Mexico regaining Category 1 status for flight safety. In May 2021, the US Federal Aviation Administration downgraded Mexico’s aviation sector to a Category 2 safety rating, after finding it did not meet safety standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

This prohibited Mexican carriers from starting new routes or adding flights to the US, or introducing new aircraft on existing US routes, which forces them to deploy older planes on US flights. However, according to Jorge Nuño Lara, Mexico’s secretary of infrastructure, communications and transport, Category 1 designation could be restored within the next 90 days.

Most airlines accepted the decree to move their freighters, but, reportedly, three US cargo carriers have dug in their heels.

Meanwhile, the migration to AIFA is continuing, with the latest cargo carriers to announce their decision to move being Cargolux and LATAM, while MSC, which launched twice-weekly freighter operations into Mexico City in December, recently completed a successful test flight to AIFA.

LATAM will run three flights a week to AIFA. Director general Diana Olivares, who is also president of the National Chamber of Air Transport, said the airline would like to start operations at AIFA this month, pending some small details about the airport’s readiness. These are mostly related to certification issues and customs clearance, she said.

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