US requests meeting to reassess Venezuelan safety rating

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Venezuela's CAA (INAC) has confirmed the FAA has requested a visit to Caracas on 17 April to plan a reassessment audit of the country's current category 2 safety rating.

The move could help resolve the escalating spat between the two, which has seen INAC impose a 31 March deadline for blocking most US carriers from the lucrative Venezuela-US market.

Venezuela has been category 2 safety rated under the FAA’s International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) programme since 1996. But in February INAC invoked the Chicago Convention on "equal opportunities" and citing a positive ICAO safety audit performed in 2004, announced it would apply "the same conditions to US carriers as the US is applying to Venezuelan carriers as per 28 February". The deadline was later extended to 31 March.

This meant that Delta, Continental and most express cargo carriers would be prevented from operating to Venezuela. Only American Airlines would have been allowed to continue operating at its 1995 capacity, which is when the US froze the capacity of Venezuelan carriers after classifying its safety policies as non-compliant with ICAO standards.

An INAC spokesman says: "The last ICAO audit demonstrates that our safety oversight is up to their standards and actually they have acted as mediators with the FAA to obtain our reclassification. On the basis of reciprocity, as recognised by the Chicago Convention, we decided to withdraw traffic rights for US carriers because the FAA did not respond to our requests for a fast reassessment.

“However, the US carriers with which we had several very productive meetings and for which Venezuela is an important market, have accepted our position and started to explain to the FAA the need to act fast."

The INAC move received full support from Venezuelan airlines and Nelson Ramiz, president of the country's largest carrier, Aeropostal, underlines emphatically the need to maintain a tough stand: "Since the US imposed operating restrictions to Venezuelan carriers in 1995, our market share on the route has fallen from 49% to 10%.

“The US megacarriers have been benefiting enormously from the situation which the FAA is trying to maintain unilaterally despite an ICAO audit which nearly two years ago certified that Venezuela's safety standards are up to their requirements. The 31 March deadline must be maintained to send out a strong signal to get this situation resolved.”