U.S.-Venezuela Airline Conflict Resolved

US officials agreed to raise the classification of Venezuelan airlines, removing restrictions that had been the source of a conflict which threatened to significantly reduce air travel between the two countries.

Caracas, Venezuela, April 25, 2006—Last week, US officials announced that the classification of Venezuelan airlines would be upgraded. The move removes restrictions on Venezuelan airlines and seems to draw to a close a two month long dispute between the countries, which had threatened to cut off air travel between them.

“The [reclassification] means that the civil aviation authority in Venezuela has been evaluated by the Federal Aviation Administration’s inspectors and it has been determined that this body has granted licenses to the operators to follow the operational security standards of the International Civil Aviation Organization,” said the U.S. embassy in Caracas in a statement.

The Venezuelan Airlines Association praised the decision calling it “positive in every sense” and saying it will expand consumer choice in the market.

The clash over flights began in late February, when Caracas announced that, if the US did not remove its 1995 rating on its airlines, the South American country would severely restrict US flights to Venezuela. The US responded by saying such restrictions on US carriers would lead to further restrictions being placed on Venezuelan carriers.

The Federal Aviation Authority originally limited Venezuelan flights to the US in 1995, because the country lacked a civil aviation law, resources for the bodies responsible for exercising control duties and operational security surveillance, and properly trained personnel, according to Venezuela’s government’s newswire ABN. However, the news agency says, last July Venezuela enacted the new Law of Civil Aeronautics, and the civil aviation authorities have carried out changes to improve the infrastructure, security, and training of aviation personnel. In 2004, the International Civil Aviation Organization said that Venezuela fulfilled 89 percent of the international norms and requirements to operate commercially in foreign markets, including the United States.

Venezuelan air carriers had supported the Venezuela government’s ultimatum, and have positioned themselves to enter or expand their services to the US market. They reacted positively to news of the FAA’s decision.

“We’re very pleased. Next week we begin to train the crew that we will use for flights into the US, and we already have the airplanes. The priority is to increase the flights to Miami from one to two times a day,” Francisco Gonzalez, president of Venezuelan Airline Santa Barbara told the Venezuelan daily El Nacional.