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Is it still safe to fly a foreign country's airlines if FAA downgrades its aviation system?

What does it mean for flight safety when the Federal Aviation Administration downgrades another country's aviation system like it did with Mexico this year?

– Jessica M., Mexico City

In May, the U.S. downgraded the Mexican aviation system from Level 1 to Level 2 after reviewing its performance from October 2020 through February 2021. The FAA found about 24 noncompliance issues, of which Mexico had resolved four.

Level 2 status means that the FAA found that Mexico “lacks the necessary requirements to oversee the country’s air carriers in accordance with minimum international safety standards, or the civil aviation authority is lacking in one or more areas such as technical expertise, trained personnel, record keeping, inspection procedures or resolution of safety concerns.”

So what does it mean for American travelers? While Mexican airlines can continue existing service and routes to the U.S., they can't add any new ones and American carriers can't brand codeshare flights operated by Mexican airlines with their own names and designator codes in flight numbers (for instance, DL123) or put them on tickets or boarding passes.

It also means that the FAA will be scrutinizing Mexico's aviation program more carefully.

At the time of the downgrade, the agency said in a statement that they are committed to helping Mexico regain Level 1 status and offered expertise and resources to help them do so.

Mexico has said that they intend to resolve all of the issues quickly “within a few months."

In terms of safety, it's preferable to fly on a carrier from a Level 1 country whenever possible.

At one, time international commercial aircraft carried cargo on the main passenger deck but I haven't seen this in many years. Does it still occur – and if so, where?

– Rockfish, Virginia

When a flight carries cargo on the main deck it is known as a “combi”. Combi flights were common in some parts of the world, such as Alaska where there is more freight demand than passenger demand.

However, the proliferation of dedicated freight airplanes and operators has reduced the number of combi flights. Combi flight may still be flown in some remote parts of the world, but I do not know of any.

These days, modern wide body airliners can carry enough belly cargo that the need for combi flight with their limited passenger capacity has decreased.

John Cox is a retired airline captain with US Airways and runs his own aviation safety consulting company, Safety Operating Systems. The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.

This article originally appeared on USA Today

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