Mexico's top federal aviation official recommended today that the government ground TAESA, the airline operating a DC-9 that crashed late Tuesday 180 miles west of Mexico City, killing all 18 people on board.
The proposed suspension ofTAESA flights, including those serving Chicago, Oakland and Laredo, Tex., was taken under review by the Ministry of Communications and Transportation. A ministry official said the action is under consideration because of the company's spotty safety record, reports that some of its planes are in poor condition and what he described as violations of Mexican aviation laws.
A TAESA spokesman, Gregorio Ortega, said that the airline is aware of discussions among Mexican transportation officials about grounding its fleet, but that the company is addressing safety and maintenance issues on a plane-by-plane basis that will permit it to continue operating.
"We adhere to international laws and comply with all norms," he said.
Officially named Transportes Aereos Ejecutivos, TAESA is Mexico's third-largest commercial airline, carrying about 2 million passengers on 35,000 flights last year. One of its planes, a Learjet carrying two families, crashed in dense fog near Dulles International Airport in 1994, killing all seven adults and five children aboard.
Its Flight 725 to Mexico City crashed Tuesday in an avocado grove shortly after taking off from the airport in Uruapan, a small city about halfway between Guadalajara and the capital. Aviation officials said the plane reached an altitude of about 1,000 feet before plunging to the ground, killing 13 passengers and five crew members.
The flight had originated in the border city of Tijuana, near San Diego, with 91 passengers. But many had disembarked during scheduled stops in Guadalajara and Uruapan, leaving just 18 people on the plane, which can carry about 100 passengers.
The transportation ministry, in a statement Tuesday night, said that two minutes after the plane's 6:59 p.m. takeoff, "an emergency was declared without expressing the cause," and contact was lost.
Officials said today they have retrieved the plane's black box of flight data that will be reviewed for clues. They said they know of no specific maintenance problems with the plane, which ministry documents show TAESA leased from a U.S. firm called Pacific Aviation Holding Co.
In a draft letter to TAESA, Juan Antonio Barges Mestres, director of civil aviation, said he was grounding the airline "to conduct a technical-administrative review of your fleet to determine the existence of conditions that put the safety of air operations at risk." A ministry spokesman described the letter as nothing more than an internal communication.
In support of the suspension, aviation officials compiled a list of 43 serious violations of Mexican aviation laws they said were committed by TAESA since 1990, including 13 this year. A ministry official said the violations included permitting pilots to fly with expired licenses, changing flight plans without notifying airport and aviation authorities and unauthorized landings at closed airports.
The Mexican Airline Pilots Union released a report in September saying about 30 percent of the planes owned by Mexican airlines are "junk," including 23 owned by TAESA that the pilots said are on average 21 years old.
CAPTION: A soldier guards wreckage of the TAESA DC-9 that crashed in an avocado grove west of Mexico City. An aviation official has recommended suspending the airline's flights.
CAPTION: A rescue worker searches the site of Tuesday night's crash, which killed all 18 people aboard the plane.