TACA Regional grounding ignites Honduran ATC fees row

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Grounding of TACA's regional operation Islena Airlines by the Honduran civil aviation administration has opened a conflict over the legitimacy of the country's so-called 'Flight Protection Service' air traffic charge, introduced in 2003.

While Central American air navigation provider COCESNA controls air traffic across several states, Honduras assumes control of, and charges, air traffic flying below 20,000ft.

La Ceiba-based Islena, rebranded to TACA Regional, had its operating licence temporarily suspended on 24 June over an alleged unpaid $1.8 million fee for the low-altitude service - charges which are supplemental to standard air traffic control fees.

The grounding affects about 30 daily ATR 42-operated domestic flights between Tegucicalpa, San Pedro Sula, La Ceiba and Roatan, as well as Islenas' sole international route to Gran Cayman.

A TACA spokeswoman describes the decision as "unfortunate and disproportionate" as TACA is paying "all legally-established" air traffic fees to navigation provider COCESNA.

She hopes that the airline will be "allowed to resume flights very soon" as Taca is negotiating a solution with the Honduran authorities, but also applying at a local court for legal protection against the "arbitrary measure".

But a Honduran civil aviation administration source insists: "All other carriers pay the [Flight Protection Service] fees, so it cannot positively discriminate Islena by not enforcing the payment of the service."